As many people in this country are seduced by the slick, guy-next-door type of racial/ethnic prejudice implicit in anti-immigrant xenophobia (think: FAIR, NumbersUSA, Community Watchdog Project, etc.), and as US imperialism and corporate aggression continue to milk profit out of populations of color who can ill afford it, we find ourselves jarringly reminded that overt racial profiling and harassment are still alive and well. It’s not slick; it’s not vague or subtle. It’s old-fashioned terrorizing right out on the street.
Police in East Haven, CT, a suburb of New Haven, have been accused of harassing Latino/a customers and merchants, and have gone so far as to arrest a New Haven priest who came to look into the treatment of Hispanic persons, some of whom are members of his congregation. The merchants say that police routinely wait for customers to leave shopping establishments along the town’s Main Street, targeting Hispanics—verbally abusing them, discrediting and destroying identification, etc. All this is done under some false notion of keeping order.
Even the Manship arrest took place during a police intrusion whose reason (read: pretense) was cited as the investigation of used license plates on a merchant’s wall. (For real? License plates? Give me a break. They’d have to roll up into countless restaurants, basements, sheds and automobile trunks if they really cared about such.)
According to community leaders’ statements in a press conference this week, the Latino/a population in East Haven has grown to an estimated 2,000. There seems to be a direct correlation with the rise of this population and the rise of the alleged harassment. No surprise there.
This is old school strong-arming, one step short of Bull Connor. This is DWB (Driving While Black, or Brown) taken to the storefront. Apparently, Dining While Brown is now a municipal offense in East Haven. As expected, the placating platitudes flowed from city officials, including the mayor:
“While [East Haven Mayor April] Capone Almon acknowledged some people may still judge East Haven based on its past reputation as a place that was less than tolerant of racial and ethnic minorities, ‘East Haven has become a more diverse community certainly in my life, and I think old stereotypes are changing’ “. Actions, however, are speaking louder in East Haven than words—or presumed perceptions about supposedly-changing stereotypes. The egregious actions of East Haven police officers are demonstrating that old danger is still present. Until this reality is changed not only will old stereotypes be maintained, but an oppressive and unsafe environment for non-white members of the community will be maintained as well.
No doubt there are East Haven police officers who do not engage in such discriminatory behavior, who are repulsed by the actions of their wayward colleagues. The officers who are out of line, however, must be reined in and disciplined in order for the discriminatory culture to change.
When justice-minded folk, conscious of the racism still extant in law enforcement and other societal institutions, monitor the behavior of public authorities as did Fr. Manship, they are told they’re out of line, interfering with so-called official business. They are told, in other words, that the system in power should be allowed to do whatever it wants—to run rampant without accountability and roughshod with impunity, unfettered by worries over human dignity.
Members of the East Haven Latino/a community, and the faith community that supports them, are taking risks and demonstrating leadership in speaking out. Indeed, the madness taking place in East Haven should be a warning sign and a call to action for civil and human rights groups, faith groups, the academy, labor and anyone with common sense and decency. Bigotry and intimidation are not things of the past. We must be vigilant and diligent in uniting against such.