2013 Column on Penn Act Advisory Board

Racism Report: Penn Act Advisory Board/West End Civic Association Members Push Back
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This column appears in the October 10 – 17 2013 edition of the Hartford News… Community Update: Check out the Community Party’s Stop Racial Profiling – Obey the Law! Facebook page for continuing coverage of the East Haven police civil rights trial. http://www.facebook.com/PennAct You can read the archive of New Haven Register correspondent Evan Lips’ reports on the trial here. http://www.nhregister.com/search?text=east+haven+police+trial

The members of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, the puppet Alvin W. Penn Act advisory board of Gov. Dannel Malloy, have not mentioned the Department of Justice investigation of racial profiling by the East Haven Police Department during any of their meetings which were televised on the Connecticut Network, nor have they mentioned the 2012 DOJ indictment of EHPD officers David Cari, Dennis Spaulding, Jason Zullo and Sgt. John Miller or the trial of Cari and Spaulding on their website. http://www.ctrp3.org/ Last week I left messages with advisory board members Ken Barone, American Civil Liberties Union legal director Sandra Staub and Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs asking for an explanation. Predictably, Staub did not return my call. Fuchs told me that informing the public about the East Haven case or studying the DOJ investigative report on the EHPD isn’t something that the advisory board, which is supposedly working to stop racial profiling in this state, needs to do. “That’s not our charge,” Fuchs said. “Our job isn’t to look backward. Our job is to collect traffic stop data in the best manner possible.” I then asked about the disparity in the reactions to the Newtown school shooting and the East Haven case.

Following the spree killing at Sandy Hook, a legislative task force on gun violence was created. The task force visited suburban towns, including Newtown (while excluding gun violence plagued cities Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport) to discuss possible solutions. The gun laws in Connecticut were subsequently strengthened. Police officers were assigned to selected schools. I pointed out to Fuchs that clearly the state “looked backward” at the Newtown shooting and implemented measures designed to prevent that tragedy from happening again. The reaction by the state, reflected by Fuchs’ comments, to the East Haven case has been the exact opposite. After a lengthy pause, Fuchs reiterated his position that the East Haven case is not the advisory board’s concern. After questioning my “professionalism” Fuchs would not respond when I asked him if he had anything to say to the Latino East Haven residents who have testified at the trial about being harassed and brutalized by Spaulding and Zullo. Testimony by EHPD Sgt. Anthony Rybaruk supports residents’ testimony against Zullo. The advisory board’s stated purpose of data collection is to determine if racial profiling is happening in Connecticut (duh). The East Haven case is irrefutable evidence of biased policing which the board has chosen to ignore.

Barone, who has been the public face of the advisory board and is listed as the contact person on their website, would not answer my questions and ever so politely referred me to Bill Dyson, the advisory board chair/figurehead (and the Black guy). Dyson started off by totally contradicting Fuchs, as he said that the East Haven case was the impetus for the formation of the board, and that the board is formulating policies in direct reponse to the case. Dyson then said that he has not read the DOJ investigative report of the EHPD! Like Fuchs, Dyson had no answer for why the advisory board hasn’t discussed the case during their televised meetings and community forums or during any legislative hearings and why there is no mention of the case on the advisory board’s website. Dyson had a problem with my contention that he could not effectively develop policies to respond to the case if he didn’t know squat about what actually happened. I submit that the board has not mentioned the DOJ investigation of the EHPD or the trial of Cari and Spaulding because their true assignment is to protect the police. My conversations with Fuchs, Barone and Dyson and Staub’s display of cowardice have strengthened my belief. In an astonishing display of arrogance, Dyson repeatedly asked me why the advisory board should study and discuss the DOJ report. I challenge Dyson to ask the Latino East Haven residents who have suffered at the hands of Cari, Spaulding, Zullo and Miller that question, if he has the guts. I’ll address this issue further in the coming weeks; the DOJ report on the EHPD is available in our Resources section.

The government shutdown, the latest manufactured crisis from Congress, underscores the importance of services for the poor. Check out our Resources section for links to reports on how the shutdown will impact vulnerable populations and an analysis of the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare. Kerri Provost ( http://www.realhartford.org/) posted an open letter by West End Civic Association members who opposed WECA’s failed attack on the Grace Seventh-Day Adventist Church food pantry. This week we’ll share the letter in this space.

September 27, 2013

An Open Letter to Members of the WECA Board

WECA’s Southwest Sector met Tuesday evening, September 24, and discussed at length the recent actions taken by WECA regarding the food pantry run by the church adjacent to Elizabeth Park on Prospect Avenue. We were deeply disturbed and disappointed by the WECA Board’s actions, and we wish to bring the following points to the Board’s attention in the hope that the Board will take them into consideration in the future.

1. We regret and disagree with the motion passed by the Board at its September meeting regarding WECA’s position on the food pantry. We feel that the decision behind the motion was not only wrong with regard to the facts—there were, evidently, no zoning or licensing problems with the food pantry—but more importantly as a matter of principle. An organization that looks to its bylaws and finds “zoning enforcement” before “social responsibility” and “helping those in need” is not an organization of which we can be proud members.

2. We want to state clearly that we support the concept of food pantries as a welcoming, inclusive, and humane practice and a means of reaching out to individuals in our neighborhood, in Greater Hartford, and beyond. Moreover, we feel strongly that this sort of service to humanity far outweighs the inconveniences of crowded sidewalks or traffic slowdowns.

3. We deplore the harm that WECA’s actions have done to the organization’s good name and reputation, and especially the harm it has done to us in the esteem of those we struggle most to reach and embrace: the neighborhood’s low-income and needy residents. While sound decision-making cannot be based primarily on “public relations,” this was not sound decision-making, and we strongly urge the WECA Board to take steps to repair WECA’s reputation as a welcoming, inclusive, socially responsible organization rather than one devoted to its wealthier members’ material comforts. While these steps should certainly include outreach to the church, it must also go beyond that to ensure those whose impression of WECA has been soured might come to view us in a better light.

4. Most importantly, we are deeply disappointed in the decision-making process that led to this deplorable decision, and we urge WECA to take steps to make sure that this sort of misguided practice ceases.

a. First, we feel that the rush to judgment at the September Board meeting was a violation of the spirit and maybe even the letter of WECA’s established procedures. We have a Zoning Committee, to which zoning concerns should be referred for investigation and opinion gathering.

The committee organizes and publicizes meetings that allow residents to have their say—but that was not done in this case. We have heard that there was a claim of urgency: that WECA had been asked to state its position at a meeting with L&I two days after the Board meeting. But the food pantry had been in operation for some time. The urgency was false, and the WECA Board should have respected its established procedures and told L&I that we needed the time to do so.

b. Second, we feel that the heavy reliance at the meeting on responses to an e-mail sent to the membership was a serious mistake. It is important to remember that people who disagree with the status quo—in this case, with the existence of the food pantry—are much more likely to respond to an e-mail like this one than those satisfied with the existing situation. But more important, it is essential to understand that inclusion on WECA’s e-mail list, access to e-mail generally, and the time and linguistic confidence to respond are not evenly distributed in our neighborhood. Relying on e-mail responses to make a decision as significant as this one disenfranchises a large and distinct group of West End residents. This is all the more troubling given the under-representation of just this group on the WECA Board.

c. Third, WECA’s bylaws require the Board to seek consensus in its decision-making. We feel that this principle was ignored in the making of the food pantry decision. It was clear that while a majority of Board members agreed with the decision, a significant minority was strongly in disagreement. Moreover, that minority was largely if not entirely made up of the Board’s south-of-Farmington members. It is true that there comes a point when consensus cannot be reached and a vote must be taken. But we do not think that point had been reached after the relatively brief discussion of the food pantry. When such an obvious divide exists, we would urge the Board to try especially hard to build consensus.

Over 75% of the West End’s residents are renters and many of them are low-income. The vast majority of these residents live south of Farmington Avenue. When WECA acts in a way that excludes or discounts these residents’ opinions and interests, we in the Southwest sector feel marginalized—and we can only imagine how our neighbors in the Southeast sector must feel, if they are even paying attention to WECA any more. We began our sector meeting Tuesday evening with introductions: name, street, and length of residence in the neighborhood. Most of us have been in the West End for more than a decade—and a few for nearly five decades. This is our neighborhood, whether we pay $75 to go to the Dine Around or bring SNAP coupons to the Farmer’s Market. We are proud West Enders—but we aren’t proud of our civic association today.

Respectfully submitted,

Elvia Strom & Alan Paluck, SouthWest Sector Representatives

On behalf of the SouthWest Sector of WECA

It’s telling that some of WECA’s own members see that the organization is viewed as elitist, which it is. Martin Luther King said, ”True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The latest U.S. Census reports that the poverty rate in Hartford is 38%. The child poverty rate is 53%. This letter is a great first step; it would be good if WECA members who wrote and support the letter and community residents who denounced WECA’s attack on the food pantry talked with residents of the Southeast sector about pushing WECA to address the poverty issue in this city. WECA has the power to do it. This could be done by requesting meetings with Mayor Pedro Segarra, Council President Shawn Wooden (who are both West End residents), the city council board and lawmakers and pushing them to enact policies and legislation aimed at eradicating poverty in Hartford.

Noteworthy in the wake of WECAgate; the Connecticut Mirror reported on September 30 that food pantries will play an important role in the state’s government shutdown plans. “The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, serves about 58,000 Connecticut residents and is funded entirely from Washington. The Connecticut Department of Public Health expects to have an assessment of the impact of a shutdown on that program in the next few days. The agency also has a contingency plan which included referring WIC clients to community based programs and services, including food pantries.”

Check out CP on Twitter @CommunityParty1 and our Plan C: The People’s Budget of Connecticut Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Plan-C-The-Peoples-Budget-of-Connecticut/134064293347049) for coverage of the government shutdown. Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for CP’s public service announcement on our social justice platform. You can contact us at 860-206-8879 or samuelssloflo@aol.com .

Resources:

Department of Justice investigative report of the East Haven police:

http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/easthavenpd.php

Connecticut Mirror report on the impact of the government shutdown on the poor:

http://www.ctmirror.org/story/2013/09/30/connecticuts-poor-most-likely-feel-shutdown-impact-first

Black Youth Project article on the effect of the government shutdown on low-income moms and children:

http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2013/10/how-the-government-shut-down-affects-low-income-moms-and-children/

Jonathan Pelto’s column on poverty in Connecticut:

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/09/27/connecticut-poverty-state-highest-per-capita-income/

Analysis of the Affordable Care Act aka ObamaCare:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/health/millions-of-poor-are-left-uncovered-by-health-law.html?emc=edit_tnt_20131003&tntemail0=y&_r=2&pagewanted=all&

http://www.pnhp.org/news/2013/october/despite-aca%E2%80%99s-improvements-many-big-holes-and-problems-will-remain

David Samuels

Founder

Community Party

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