By Abby Phillip February 18 at 2:23 PM
The Washington Post
Dozens of copies of a threatening and racially charged letter were circulated within a Connecticut police department with a long history of racial tensions, black officers said.
The note, typed on official City of Bridgeport Department of Police letterhead, began and ended with the words “WHITE POWER.” “These Black Officers Belong in the toilet,” the letter reads in part.
Bridgeport Police Lt. Lonnie Blackwell said the unsigned letter comes as no surprise to officers of color in the department, which has long struggled to remedy discrimination claims dating to at least the 1970s.
“This is not the first race-based letter that has circulated recently throughout the Bridgeport Police Department, but this is the most severe and damaging letter,” Blackwell, an African American department veteran, told The Washington Post in an interview. “We’re very concerned for our safety and our well-being as black police officers.”
The letters were discovered in mailboxes this month, according to Blackwell, who reported the discovery to Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph Gaudett. No one knows who distributed them, but the department’s black officers believe they came from someone within their own ranks because the letters were found shoved into mailboxes in an area that is not accessible to the public.
Harold Dimbo, a detective, said at a news conference Wednesday that the letters were distributed primarily to the department’s white officers and were discovered accidentally by black officers.
“One of the letters just got into the wrong box,” Dimbo said. In the last year, there have been three other racially charged letters distributed within the department, Dimbo added. But this instance was by far the most egregious.
The letter specifically names a black officer Clive Higgins, who was recently found not guilty of police brutality charges in federal court. Higgins and two other officers, Elson Morales and Joseph Lawlor, were accused of tasing and beating a suspect during an arrest — an incident that was captured in a video recording. Morales and Lawlor both entered guilty pleas.
“The Chief promise us the White people, he doesn’t belong here,” the letter said. “Where were you Higgins?? You better watch your back. We know where you live. Your face was all over the newspaper.”
It continued: “Remember you have no duty weapon to defend yourself.”
Since the early 1970s, the Bridgeport Police Department has been the target of lawsuits accusing it of various forms of discrimination against black officers. In 1983, a federal judge found evidence of widespread, systematic discrimination. The department excluded black police officers from prestigious divisions and regularly assigned black and Hispanic officers to high crime areas; additionally, black members of the force reported being harassed by other officers with racial slurs and disparaging comments.
The judge appointed a lawyer to serve as a “special master” to investigate claims of discrimination in the department and enforce the judge’s remedy order. That order was only lifted in 2010.
A spokesman for the City of Bridgeport said state police have launched an investigation into the latest incident. “We have yet to see a physical copy of the letter in question, so we cannot comment on it directly,” city spokesman Brett Broesder said in a statement. “Right now, there’s an active investigation at the state level, so everything is in question: its authenticity, the motive and every part of the development and distribution of it.”
He added: With that said, the city has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination of any kind, especially that of a racial nature. The bottom line is that we have the most diverse police department in the state. We’ve launched an aggressive recruitment effort in order to make the department even more representative of our community. And, our crime rate is at historic lows. Any allegation of racial discrimination that seeks to divide our police department or our community will not be tolerated. If the investigation turns up any wrongdoing, swift, fair, just and immediate action will be taken against those guilty of wrongdoing. Racial discrimination will not be tolerated. Period.
Blackwell — who serves as president of the Bridgeport Guardians, a group representing minority officers – said the officers decided to go public with the letter because of the severity of the threats.
“It’s very disturbing for black police officers who work in that kind of hostile environment,” he said.
Gaudett, the police chief, will be conducting an investigation into the incident, said Dimbo, who serves as vice president of the Bridgeport Guardians, which brought the discrimination lawsuits against the department in the 1970s.
“We will support Chief Gaudett and find out who this person is,” Dimbo said. “If a person is walking around the police department with this kind of hatred in them, when they’re out in the community, we have to worry about our young black youth, as well as other minorities out in the community.”
Tom Bucci, a lawyer for the Guardians, said that the group is prepared to pursue separate legal action if its members are unsatisfied with the department’s investigation.
The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities it is not yet involved in the case, but is watching it closely, a spokesman said. “We are particularly interested in it because Tanya Hughes is our executive director; she is a resident of Bridgeport,” Jim O’Neill told The Post. “She is aware of it and concerned about it, and we certainly will be monitoring it. But as of now we don’t have any authority in it.”