Almost two months have passed since 16-year-old Nashawn Williams was beaten and doused with hot coffee by a group of white boys at a bus stop in the “scenic” town of Plainfield, Conn.—where local police have been unable to name a suspect or make an arrest in the assault, which many say was racially motivated.
Hartford Rev. Cornell Lewis said Saturday at a rally outside Plainfield’s Town Hall that he can understand why Nashawn’s mother Phyllisha Williams wanted to move to Plainfield. There’s no cars rushing up and down the street, there’s no wine or beer bottles littering the sidewalks, it’s a quiet New England town that could be a Norman Rockwell painting, if it wasn’t for the racism lurking underneath the surface, Lewis said.
“The face of racism is alive and well in this town,” Lewis said. But there was at least one speaker at Saturday’s rally that disagreed with the portrait Mr. Lewis painted. First Selectman Paul Sweet was given an opportunity to address the dozens of people from across the state that attended the solidarity rally.
“The town is trying to deal with an unfortunate situation and the authorities need to have time to investigate the matter,” Sweet said. “I want you to know this much: In Plainfield an assault is an assault and we have to let law enforcement do its job.”
Sweet’s comments drew the criticism of Mrs. Williams, who shouted at Sweet as he descended the steps of Town Hall. “When I told you there was racism in your town you told me to drive safely!” she said before breaking down in tears.
Lewis said the Williams family has since moved, not only because of the assault on Nashawn, but also because 17 white men and boys stood on her front lawn and shouted “Come out Nigger. Show yourself.” He said he hates to think about what would have happened if they did.
Raquel Muniz, a Plainfield resident for 30 years, said, “I do believe there is racism in town,” however, it’s not in the police department. She said the parents in town need to think about what they’re teaching their kids because “racism destroys the fabric of Plainfield and our nation.” Before stepping away from the microphone, Muniz embraced Mrs. Williams and told her, “I wish you would have stayed. I would have stood by you.”
While Muniz expressed confidence in the local police department, Lewis said he doesn’t think they want to find the people who did this to Nashawn.
Police Chief Robert Hoffman, who also attended the rally Saturday along with a handful of officers, said the investigation is ongoing and about two or three weeks ago he asked the Federal Bureau of Investigations to get involved. He said after the NAACP news conference in mid-November he spoke to the FBI and asked them to help with the investigation. In addition he said the FBI will make sure the department’s response to the incident wasn’t based on race.
Some have alleged there was involvement by the Klan or a group calling itself Nation K.
“It was a couple of local individuals not affiliated with anything,” being looked at, Hoffman said. He said he was unable to speak further about the details of the investigation.
“If you can’t find a bunch of racist thugs, you ought to turn in your badges,” Frank O’Gorman from People of Faith, who emceed the rally said.
But Hoffman said he’s doing everything he can to get this resolved. He’s even reached out to the public for help. In a letter published in the Norwich Bulletin, Hoffman wrote, “I ask that anyone who has been a victim of, or even felt racial intolerance in this town to please call my office by mid December so I may better gauge the extent of the problem. Or you can e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do this even though you did or did not previously report it. Also, you will not be required to identify yourself. I will report later on the response and we will all know the extent of the problem.”