East Haven, CT generally has two claims to fame: being a predominantly Italian-American populated town and being in the middle of the collision of tectonic plates during the Paleozoic Era, which led to the formation of Pangaea (yeah, bet you didn’t know that!). And now, rapidly, the town is intent on adding a third selling point: a sundown town.
Residents of Connecticut will have heard these stories for years now: the systematic harassment of and discrimination against minorities, mainly Hispanic, who comprise about 5% of the town’s population. For example, Father James Manship was arrested in March of 2009 after he started videotaping the harassment of Latinos [what is up with cops and videotaping in the Havens?]. During that same incident, police inexplicably ordered the owner of a store to take down expired license plates that adorned his walls:
On the evening of his arrest, at around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 19, Father Manship walked into My Country Store, a convenience store in East Haven run by Ecuadorians. Inside, the police were removing over 60 expired license plates that had been hung as decorations in the store. The license plates were government property, the officers had said, and they were confiscating them.
After the police arrested the priest, they noticed that the store was equipped with security cameras. Elio Cruz, a leader in New Haven’s Virgen Del Cisne Ecuadorian community, was in the store that night. “When [the police officers] realized there was videotaping from My Country Store, they went crazy,” Cruz recalled later. “They said it was illegal and they tried to grab the computer.”
Matute said that three officers entered the back room without his permission and searched the shelves in his storeroom. When they found the hard drive containing the store’s digital security camera footage, they wanted to take it, but Matute wouldn’t let them, he said. Matute said that the officers then called a detective to bring a video camera to record the security footage off of the computer screen, but the detective’s camera didn’t work.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In October of this year, some Latino residents of East Haven filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, after the DOJ had opened an investigation into police tactics:
The suit charges that police routinely harassed immigrants and tried to force them and customers of their businesses to leave town. The suit also reprises allegations that police set up outside the immigrant-run My Country Store on Main Street to ticket and otherwise harass customers.
The plaintiffs charge that police regularly ticketing cars at one store declared that customers could “park in New Haven and walk.” They charge that an officer regularly entered a house with Latino families illegally, without a warrant, to harass its occupants, at one point suggesting to a woman in front of her children that she leave the country.
The plaintiffs also cite previously reported statistics about the issuance of traffic tickets. Of 376 tickets given out in one stretch between mid-June and early 2009, some 60 percent went to Hispanic drivers. Hispanics make up 6 percent of East Haven residents. (Read more about that here.)
And now, this alleged wish of the East Haven police department is coming true. Minority residents of East Haven are leaving the town, their homes and businesses ruined (at least garnering some national attention):
Santiago Malave has worked law enforcement jobs in Connecticut for more than four decades, but as a Puerto Rican, he says he cannot drive through his own town without worrying about police harassing him.
Malave, a probation officer who works in New Haven, says the racial abuse is so bad that he only crosses the town line into East Haven to go home. He and his wife are now preparing to sell their house and move, joining an exodus of Hispanics who say police have hassled them with traffic stops, false arrests and even jailhouse beatings.
Hispanic business owners say police made a practice of parking outside their shops and stopping any Latinos. Some who complained say they faced retaliation.
Luis Rodriguez, an immigrant from Ecuador who owns the Los Amigos Grocery, said he was arrested two months ago and jailed for five days after a woman pointed out to police that his 3-year-old son was unsupervised on the sidewalk outside the store. He said police were out for revenge because his wife had been videotaping them. He was charged with child neglect; the case is still pending.
Meanwhile, his store is up for sale. Ecuadoreans used to travel from as far as Massachusetts for jalapenos, Ecuadorean sodas and other specialty products. But Rodriguez said police have scared customers away by threatening to alert immigration authorities if they ever saw them in town again.
Hispanics in East Haven say more than half their population — estimated at 1,900 by the Census Bureau — has moved away.
Mario Marin, who was at work one recent afternoon in his family’s empty restaurant, La Bamba, said two of his siblings moved to nearby Waterbury and another brother returned to Ecuador. He said one brother, like other Hispanic property owners, lost a house to foreclosure after his tenants moved away.
“They destroyed our future here,” Marin said of police. He said even out-of-town diners have stopped coming since officers launched raids on the restaurant’s parking lot, towing away any cars with out-of-state license plates.
And while the DOJ and FBI plod along, hard working people who attempted to live the American dream are exposed to the racist underbelly of our social and racial warfare. East Haven may well be on its way to becoming a sundown town, but apparently the sun never sets on bigotry.