- Seth Freed Wesslersenior research associate at the Applied Research Center and an investigative reporter for Colorlines.com, where he covers immigration, criminal justice and economic inequality.
A new investigation by ColorLines Magazine has revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement continued to detain and deport individuals rounded up by the East Haven, Connecticut police, even after the Department of Justice launched its investigation into racial profiling. Four East Haven police officers have been arrested for targeting Latino immigrants with false arrests, false reports and harassment, prompting the East Haven police chief to resign. We’re joined by Seth Freed Wessler, a senior research associate at the Applied Research Center and an investigative reporter for Colorlines.com. “East Haven, Connecticut has a long history of profiling people of color,” Freed Wessler says. “Folks of color in the greater New Haven area know not to drive through East Haven, Connecticut. You’re going to get pulled over if you’re black or Latino.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We end today’s show looking at the police racial profiling scandal in East Haven, Connecticut. The city’s police chief, Leonard Gallo, last day on the job is today. He announced his resignation following the arrest of four East Haven police officers on charges of conspiracy to commit racial profiling and using threats and intimidation. They’re accused of routinely injuring, threatening and intimidating Latino immigrants with false arrests, false reports and harassment, according to the federal indictment.
At a recent press conference, U.S. Attorney David Fein revealed the charges against the four officers—Dennis Spaulding, David Cari, Jason Zullo and Sergeant John Miller.
U.S. ATTORNEY DAVID FEIN: The indictment further alleges that Spaulding and Zullo intimidated, harassed and humiliated members of the Latino community and their advocates. Spaulding and Zullo conducted unreasonable and illegal searches at Latino-owned businesses. Spaulding followed, intimidated and harassed advocates who work to defend the rights of members of the Latino community. And Spaulding and Zullo used racist and other inappropriate language when they interacted with or referred to members of the Latino community. In total, the indictment alleges more than 30 overt acts by the four defendants and others in furtherance of the conspiracy.
AMY GOODMAN: While the East Haven story has made national news, little attention has been given to what has happened to the victims of racial profiling. A new investigation by ColorLines has revealed Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, continued to detain and deport individuals rounded up by the East Haven police, even after the Department of Justice launched its investigation into racial profiling.
Joining us now is Seth Wessler. He is a senior research associate at the Applied Research Center, investigative reporter for Colorlines.com. Latest article is called “How East Haven, Conn., Became Synonymous with Racial Profiling.”
So, how did this all go down?
SETH FREED WESSLER: Well, you know, East Haven, Connecticut, has a long history of profiling people of color. You know, folks of color in the greater New Haven area know not to drive through East Haven, Connecticut. You’re going to get pulled over if you’re black or Latino.
You know, about half a decade ago, the town’s demographics started to change, and Latinos started to move to town for cheaper rents, and businesses started to open with Spanish names. And the police department began to profile Latinos aggressively and, you know, with real violence. I was up there earlier this week and spoke with dozens of people in Latino-owned businesses, and just about everybody had a story to tell about being followed and taunted and often beat up by the police. And this is what the DOJ was investigating. It’s also what a Yale clinic brought a lawsuit about.
And so, we have a situation in which the Department of Justice is investigating this police department for racial profiling, for police brutality. And this police department is arresting people and then saying that they’re going to call ICE to get undocumented immigrants deported. And, you know, it’s a really pernicious practice, beating people up and then threatening to get them deported. But what I found was that it wasn’t just the threat, but that ICE was in fact obliging the East Haven Police Department, picking people up and detaining them, and then often putting—deporting undocumented immigrants from the East Haven jail.
You know, ICE has claimed for a long time that they don’t engage in racial profiling. And, you know, they’re expanding their enforcement, their immigration enforcement, tactics into local jails. And they say, you know, “We’re just deporting people who have criminal convictions. We don’t profile.” But what I found was that, in fact, there is very little that ICE can do to prevent racial profiling in its enforcement practices, if they’re going to rely on local police departments. I mean, we had a local police department that was being investigated by the federal government, and at the same time, another federal agency, ICE, was deporting people picked up on those very same racial profiling tactics.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I want to play an astonishing comment by the mayor of East Haven, Joseph Maturo, which gives you an idea of the climate, the political climate, in which the police operated. This is from an interview last week.
MAYOR JOSEPH MATURO, JR.: And that’s why we can’t always believe what we hear from the press. Never criticize without knowing the facts.
MARIO DIAZ: What are you doing for the Latino community today?
MAYOR JOSEPH MATURO, JR.: I might have tacos when I go home. I’m not quite sure yet. I had spent two years in Puerto Rico. I will probably do the same thing for the Latino community.
MARIO DIAZ: You realize that’s not really the comment to say right now, you might have tacos tonight.
MAYOR JOSEPH MATURO, JR.: I might have spaghetti tonight, being of Italian descent. I could go out and have—I’ve had ethnic food. And when you asked me what I was doing for Latinos tonight, I may go out and have a Latino dinner in the Latino community.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Seth Wessler?
SETH FREED WESSLER: You know, Joseph Maturo, the mayor of East Haven, is, no doubt, absolutely out of control and—you know, saying things like this. But what’s, I think, really important—and most of the coverage of East Haven has been about this mayor and his police chief, Leonard Gallo. And it hasn’t gone much deeper than that, right? It’s been about a couple of racist city leaders. The reality is that this was a deeply structural problem, and there was a corrosive culture of racial profiling in this department that, you know, stemmed from a deep lack of oversight, lack of control over this department.
I mean, one thing that’s important to note: in 2001, the state of Connecticut passed a bill requiring all local police departments there to track the race of people who are stopped and ticketed, to basically check for and control for racial profiling. That bill was never enforced. Only about 30 cities in the state of Connecticut actually sent in data to the state government. There’s a total lack of oversight. And this is a—you know, this is a broad problem. I mean, it’s the same problem that we see in New York, where the police department is actually, you know, able to do whatever it wants, with very little oversight, profiling Muslim communities. In East Haven, it’s in the last half a decade been Latinos.
And, you know, the former mayor—there was a mayor, a Democratic mayor, April Capone, who was in office for four years before Maturo came back into office. She put the police chief on leave during the DOJ administration. And, you know, she would have had real good reason to fire this police chief. But it’s so difficult for mayors to fire police chiefs, because of, you know, unions, police unions that are often—you know, have far too much power in these situations, but also, you know, the just clause laws—just cause laws. You know, police have far too much power. And what we had here was a police department that was expanding this power, and doing that over the most vulnerable people in the community: Latinos and often undocumented immigrants.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the general anti-immigrant hysteria in the country of the past decade or so, the impact that that has had obviously on young police officers—
SETH FREED WESSLER: Right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: —in cities across the country, who then go out there and, in one sense or another, practice what they’re being told or what they’re hearing, in terms of how—of the threat of immigrants, especially the undocumented in this country.
SETH FREED WESSLER: Right, absolutely. I mean, we hear all about the Southwest of the United States, about Arizona, and about racial profiling there. But the reality is that these are practices that are happening all over the country, in small New England cities like East Haven, Connecticut. And they’re practices that are really in line with the mainstream of conservatives in this country. I mean, you know, we had Romney talking about this concept of self-deportation, this idea that people—if we make life miserable enough—
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.
SETH FREED WESSLER: —for people in this country, that they will leave on their own. I mean, this is a—this is a policy that’s being implemented in cities across the country: make life miserable for immigrants. And that’s what was happening in East Haven.
AMY GOODMAN: And people were being sent back to Ecuador.
SETH FREED WESSLER: Absolutely, and people were being deported by ICE, by the federal government, as a result of these racial profiling tactics.
AMY GOODMAN: Seth Freed Wessler, I want to thank you for being with us, senior research associate at Applied Research Center, investigative reporter, Colorlines.com.