Harsh criticisms aired at NAACP meeting - as well as suggestions for improving situation
New London - Alfred Mayo tearfully recounted his firing from the city's fire department.
Lance Goode described the pain and suffering he experienced after a police officer allegedly planted drugs and arrested him.
Joseph Anderson spoke about the lack of programs within the city's fire department aimed at hiring local people.
Those three were among the area residents, former employees and civil rights advocates from across the state who delivered impassioned testimony Tuesday night about their experiences with the New London police and fire departments at a town hall meeting in a packed room at the Second Congregational Church.
Most of the discussion at the NAACP-sponsored event, from the residents to the five panel members, centered around Goode's and Mayo's experiences. Much was harsh language against actions by city employees, but many speakers also countered those words with suggestions on how to improve the racial environment in the city.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio attended, as did Police Chief Margaret Ackley. Fire Chief Ronald Samul did not attend. People young and old, from across the racial spectrum, showed up to hear what community members had to say.
Before it started, Finizio said the event was "a good conversation to have as we move forward."
"It's beautiful," Finizio said as more than 100 people filed into the church meeting room. "It's democracy in action."
As a way of introduction, state NAACP president Scot X. Esdaile, a panel member, told the crowd that the "NAACP will fight adamantly for the individuals of this community."
"This is an opportunity to come forward publicly," Esdaile said. "This information will go to the U.S. Justice Department. We'll make sure they deal with each and every case presented to us this evening. I can't guarantee the results, but we will get the information to them."
Esdaile cited the case of former officer Roger Newton, whom Goode accused of planting drugs at the scene while arresting him in October 2010. The state police are investigating the allegations.
Esdaile said Newton, who has since resigned from the police force, betrayed the trust of the police department and the community.
"He may have resigned, but he should still be arrested," Esdaile said, to thunderous applause. "He should be arrested like a common man in the street."
State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, who spoke about both Goode and Mayo's situation, said he was "very upset" about Mayo's firing just days before his graduation from the state fire academy. Mayo was set to become the first black firefighter hired by the city since 1978.
Hewett urged the city to begin programs for local youth to become involved in the fire department, a plea echoed by many speakers.
Joseph Anderson and Derek Fauntleroy, two black men who grew up in the city, told the panels of their respective dreams of becoming firefighters, dreams they were only able to realize in fire departments outside New London.
Anderson, 44, spoke of volunteering as a young man in New London before he joined the Hamden Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant.
"As a volunteer, they didn't show any interest in me," he said. "I got hired somewhere else, but I wish I got hired here. ... There's no reason the city can say they don't have qualified people. I'm a lieutenant to this day. I grew up here on Shaw Street, how can they not say I'm not qualified?
"I'd like to come back to this city and help the city," Anderson added.
Meanwhile, Fauntleroy said he went to Groton after his hopes of working for the New London Fire Department were dashed. He serves as the chief of the Center Groton fire department.
"I went from a probationary firefighter to chief of the fire department," Fauntleroy said. "That is justification in itself that I am more than qualified to be a firefighter in New London."
Gary Tinney, president of the Firebirds, a black fraternal organization based in New Haven, said that city has programs in the high school to get the youth involved in the fire department and in other public safety careers. After he spoke, Tinney handed Finizio a sheet with information about the program.
"When these kids go to get hired, the city will have no excuse to say they're not qualified, because they're right here in your community," Tinney said, to loud applause.
Mayo, who was one of the first to speak before the panel, told of his uphill battle at the state fire academy, where he said he was mistreated by instructors.
"All I asked for is my job that I earned and worked very hard for," he said, holding back tears as he spoke. "Everything I did could be looked at two ways: negative or positive. Anything (the instructors) brought to me was looked at as negative, not positive."
Glenn Cassis, the executive director of the state African-American Affairs Commission, served as a panel member at the event and said after that he was dismayed to hear some of the testimony.
"It's a lot of ugliness going on down here," he said. "You can't have rogue officers running around. And to not have a person of color on the fire department is ludicrous. I can't believe it, especially when you have officers go off to other places. It's hideous."