Calling for East Haven to get rid of Mayor Joseph Maturo, Rep. Ernest Hewett wondered if Maturo would follow up his “stupid” taco comment by slighting the African American community with a fried chicken joke.
Hewett, a Democratic lawmaker from New London, joins a growing list of public officials to condemn the embattled mayor for comments he made Tuesday after the FBI arrested four East Haven police officers for targeting Latinos for harassment and beatings.
Tuesday’s arrests compound a growing scandal involving the police department, which includes the federal indictment of Police Chief Lennie Gallo, charging cover-ups of civil rights violations against Latinos.
Maturo threw fuel on the fire when WPIX reporter Mario Diaz asked what he would do for the Latino community and Maturo answered “I might have tacos when I get home.”
The comment sparked a firestorm of criticism from around the state. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who’s attending a conference in Switzerland, issued a statement calling Maturo’s comments “repugnant.”
“They represent either a horrible lack of judgment or worse, an underlying insensitivity to our Latino community that is unacceptable. Being tired is no excuse,” he said. “He owes an apology to the community, and more importantly, he needs to show what he’s going to do to repair the damage he’s done. And he needs to do it today.”
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also released a statement saying he was disgusted both as a Latino and mayor of Hartford.
“As mayor, I stand strongly behind the men and women who protect and serve our city and encourage our residents to work as partners toward the best interests of our communities. That cannot happen if accusations of discrimination are dismissed and disregarded,” he said. “Many have worked diligently to correct the painful history of racism in this country, and Mayor Maturo’s comments are a disappointing example of how far we still have to go to.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, whose district includes East Haven, said she was “appalled” by the statement.
“His comments have no place in a civil society and they do not reflect the values of the good residents of East Haven. Mayor Maturo has insulted the Latino community in Connecticut,” she said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey also weighed in saying, “Mr. Maturo’s comments reflect not only an insensitivity to the Latino community in general, but an inability to grasp the seriousness of the problem his town is facing. East Haven has work to do, and Mayor Maturo should step down if he is not up to the task.”
At a state Capitol press conference, Hewett said part of being a public official is being able to cater to the different ethnic groups in the town you represent. That includes blacks and Latinos, he said.
“To say he’s going to go get a taco? That to me is unforgivable to make a statement like that. Next you’re going to be talking about me. ‘Let’s go get some fried chicken. Who eats more fried chicken than anyone in this room?’ Give me a break. Yes, he needs to go,” he said.
On Wednesday, Maturo issued an apology, saying his comment was “insensitive and off-collar.” When he made the comment he had been giving interviews about the police officers all day and was tired, he said.
“Unfortunately, I let the stress of the situation get the best of me and inflamed what is already a serious and unfortunate situation. I regret my insensitive comment and realize that it is my job to lead by example,” he said.
However, Isaias T. Diaz, chairman of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said that given the leadership Maturo has shown so far, there could be a problem. It is a serious issue when the “captain of the ship” makes remarks like that “in the face of such an unbelievable investigation.”
“The comment, not only does it lack professionalism and the type of behavior that should be displayed by someone of his office, but I also think it’s a slap in the face to the Latino community. I myself find it personally offensive,” he said.
Hewett and Diaz spoke at a press conference calling for the enforcement of the more than decade old Alvin Penn Racial Profiling Act. If the law, which calls for the collection of data on racial profiling, had been enforced it might have prevented the type of behavior the four officers in East Haven displayed, Hewett said.
On Wednesday, a coalition of civil rights activists issued some recommendations for improving the law, including placing enforcement of it under the Office of Policy and Management and adding religion as a reported category.
In his statement, Maturo said he has already taken steps in East Haven “begin that healing process.” For instance, he said he commissioned a law enforcement advisory committee and has appointed Jose Velasquez, a native of Puerto Rico, to the board. The advisory committee has drafted a new mission statement for the police department and civilian compliant forms in both English and Spanish.