Special Op-Ed: Are We Living in the 1950s?

It’s 2012. We live in the enlightened Northeast. More specifically, we live in gentile Connecticut, the home of Nathan Hale and Prudence Crandall, right? We are also “The Land of Steady Habits.” The problem is the “steady habits” some keep are the pathetic, racist, bigoted habits of the 1950s and 60s or worse. A recent series of incidents shows that Connecticut has a long way to go before reality matches our perception of ourselves. We have had the “Ticket Bigot,” the “Driving While Minority” report, “Mayor Taco,” and “Whacky Whitnum.” The wheels seem to have come off the racial progress bus in the Nutmeg State.

There was no more hip place to be in Connecticut on Oscar night than the charity event at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Sponsors line up to be a part of the fundraiser for the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition (CARC). It’s certainly a worthy cause that brings out donors large and small. One such sponsor was for that night was TicketNetwork as embodied by its CEO, Donald Vaccaro. By all accounts, Vaccaro got drunk and proceeded to act, shall we say, inappropriately with some female guests. Security eventually intervened to toss his sorry, inebriated butt out the door. Vaccaro proceed to demonstrate what we called in college, Beer Muscles—the unfortunate belief that one is now Willy Pep because one drank too much. In this case, it gets worse.

The security officer at the party happened to be African American. That turned Willy Pep into David Duke. Vaccaro allegedly said to the guard, “You never should have touched me, you black mother——!” Very nice. We all know that when people get drunk, they say things they regret. But this is beyond the pale. Vaccaro’s racist instincts took over.

To make matters worse, TicketNetwork was one of Gov. Malloy’s “First Five,” an incentive plan in which the state provides tax incentives or low-interest loans to companies that come to or expand in the state. Vaccaro’s operation was to get $6.3 million in loans. He bailed before Malloy could kick him out.

According to research done by The Hartford Courant, when a motorist is pulled over for a traffic violation, if they are a minority, they are significantly more likely to get a ticket or summons than their white counterparts. We’re not talking about one, backward town; we’re talking about the entire state. The data comes from looking at 100,000 traffic stops in 2011. There are laws on the books against racial profiling but the collection and reporting of data have not happened as it should, mostly due to a lack of resources. And the profiling practice continues. Gov. Malloy, at the behest of the state NAACP, has also said his office will come up with a new plan to address the problem.

 

A couple of months ago, four officers from the East Haven police department, part of a group called “The Miller Boys” (you can’t make this stuff up) was arrested by federal authorities, charged with systematically targeting Latinos with unlawful search and seizures, traffic stops and physical abuse. This was the most egregious part of the story, but not the one that got the most attention.

In the wake of the police scandal, East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo was asked what he would do for the Hispanic community in town. In a jawing-dropping, I can’t-believe-he-just-said-that moment, Maturo showed old-school insensitivity by replying, “I may go home and have tacos for dinner tonight…” Wonderful. The ensuing national media attention is not exactly what state leaders have in mind when they are seeking attention. It was a national embarrassment for Connecticut—viewers across the country don’t differentiate East Haven from the rest of the state when watching CNN or FOX News.

Just a few weeks ago, we saw a candidate for US Senate revealed further as a hater of Israel. Now this-half-a-whack-job Democrat Lee Whitnum may not fit into the same category as the previous cases; the reader can decide that. On the popular WFSB-TV (Ch. 3) news and public affairs show Face the State, Whitnum was on full display. She insists she is not anti-Semitic but rather anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli lobby. To be sure, there is a difference. But it’s clear Whitnum, at times, falls into both categories.

She told the incomparable host of the Channel 3 show, Dennis House, that US Rep. Chris Murphy supports aid to Israel and therefore should not be elected to the US Senate. She also said former state Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz was “A card-carrying Israel-ist” and therefore is disqualified for the office as well. An argument can be made these are policy differences. But she wasn’t done.

She faulted Gov. Malloy, saying “he caved to the rabbis” in holding a news conference in Greenwich a couple years ago (she also has mocked Malloy’s dyslexia, saying “I know he can’t read”). She also complained about the town allowing town hall to be used for a bar mitzvah reception despite the fact that other groups can use the hall if they wish—including religious groups. Sounds to me she creeps into the anti-Semitic category. I qualify it because I don’t want to get sued. She’s suing the governor for saying she’s an anti-Semite.

With all these incidents happening within the last year and some within the last month, we’re left with the question, “What has happened—or not happened—to Connecticut?” Were we all asleep when that whole civil rights thing happened in the late sixties? I was just a baby then but it was in all the papers so I could look it up later. For some reason, I was under the impression we left this bigotry behind. I guess not.

When writing about the racial profiling story from the Courant, I talked to Scot X. Esdaile, the president of the Connecticut NAACP. I admitted to him that I am naïve to think racism against African Americans, Hispanics, Jews or any other group had been largely eradicated in this day and age, at least in Connecticut. But the state still has some frightening elements of it. We’re not alone in that. We just do a better job of showing it.

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