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Plenty of outrage over East Haven racial profiling scandal, and plenty of blame for state leaders who let it happen

East Haven’s racial-profiling scandal produced an abundance of outrage during a Connecticut Civil Rights Coalition news conference Wednesday, but maybe not enough of it was directed at the people who ultimately made the scandal possible.

Oh, there were calls to oust East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. for his incredible and now infamous response to the question of what he was going to do for his town’s Latino community now. (The comment, “I might have tacos when I go home” ranks right down there with some of Connecticut’s more classic political gaffes.)

And there were warnings that the four East Haven cops accused by the feds of systematically violating the rights of and beating up Latinos aren’t the only police doing racial profiling in Connecticut. “Does it happen? Yes it does,” said state Rep. Ernie Hewett, an African-American lawmaker from New London.

And there were demands that the state finally reform the impotent 12-year-old law that was intended to stop anti-racial profiling law in this state. And a brief acknowledgment that claims the state had no money to collect and process racial profiling data were bullshit.

“Here we are 12 years later and we know nothing more,” said Sandra Staub, legal director for the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It may not be a crime, but it is a shame,” Staub said.

But no one was really talking about all the state leaders – governors and top legislators - who failed to do anything to enforce or reform that law. It’s been clear for more than a decade that the law named for the late state Sen. Alvin Penn of Bridgeport, who was stopped himself by a suburban cop, wasn’t working.

The list would include former governor-turned-felon-and-radio-jock John G. Rowland; and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whose retirement from politics seemed to predate the end of her term in office. Even Gov. Dannel Malloy can share a little bit of the blame, though he’s been in office barely a year.

Then there are all the top dudes of the General Assembly for the past 10 years, including the state Senate’s current Democratic leaders, Donald Williams Jr. of Brooklyn and Martin M. Looneyof New Haven; as well as state House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden and House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden.

“I’ll take a piece of that blame,” Hewett said Wednesday when asked about whether the indictment of those four East Haven cops was also in some sense an indictment of the state’s leadership.

Almost from the very beginning it was known the anti-racial profiling law’s reporting requirements were unclear. Many local police didn’t want to bother with it. State prosecutors who were supposed to collate the information dithered and dodged and finally slid out from under that responsibility. The tiny African-American Affairs Commission which finally ended up with the task was simply unable to cope with it.

Meanwhile, state bureaucrats found themselves unable to find the time to tap into $1.2 million in federal money – funds available for nearly five years - that could have been used to pay for racial profiling data collection and analysis.

Proposals to actually make the law workable never seemed to get very far in a legislature far too busy with other stuff to really get serious about whether people of color were being harassed by Connecticut cops.

Efforts last year to reform the law foundered because of the state budget crisis. Malloy’s administration, which apparently didn’t know about the federal money that’s been sitting there untouched, didn’t include anything in his budget for the reform plan. And legislative leaders also couldn’t seem to find the money.

Malloy has expressed his own outrage at the East Haven scandal and promised to push for reform. Now attending the Davos, Switzerland economic summit for the world’s elite power-brokers and innovators, Malloy found time to issue a statement condemning Maturo’s taco comment as “repugnant” and “unacceptable.”

Nice to know the outrage is now intercontinental.

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