A controversy and debate have erupted in Hamden following an incident at the town’s Legislative Council, in which a white member insisted that a Black member refer to her as “Doctor.” The full text of Leng’s station appears at the bottom of this article. Hamden Mayor Curt Leng issued a public statement on the matter, which appears below. A group of civil-rights activists town then wrote a response statement, which appears immediately following it below.
Leng’s Statement: “All In This Together”
As the leaders representing Hamden’s three branches of elected government, we don’t profess to fully understand the personal feelings experienced during and after the verbal exchange that occurred during a Hamden Legislative Council meeting last week. We openly acknowledge that we must continue to be active listeners to learn and improve on how to best treat people in every circumstance.
For her part in this incident, Councilwoman Valerie Horsley has apologized in writing and in person. She has reflected, talked and listened to many people; and has reaffirmed her commitment to continue working on building a culture of equity and inclusion for the betterment of Hamden. We recognize Councilwoman Horseley’s apology as a reminder that the path toward healing is paved with these thoughtful and honest actions.
Hamden has a long history of embracing its rich diversity; and as other communities we continue to work to address and correct the systemic injustices that exist in our society. To ensure that we keep moving forward together, we must commit to treating each other with dignity and respect, even when we disagree.
Our collective progress is paused, set back, and disrupted when toxic language, racial slurs, and hate speech are openly used in public and in social media. This is wrong, harmful, and does not have a place in Hamden. This is not the example we want set for our kids and does not strengthen or improve upon the inclusive community we strive to be.
We call for and sincerely hope that those who took part in racist and deeply hateful name-calling, find the fortitude to acknowledge and rectify these wrongs immediately.
We call for everyone who participates in Hamden’s government or political process to engage in a respectful debate to allow Hamden’s residents to learn and consider different views and ideas. Our community deserves a healthy and respectful discussion of differences grounded in civility.
Let’s move forward and heal together; listening to each other, and expressing our differences respectfully and constructively. We must continue working together to build a better Hamden community for everyone.
We are all in this together.
Curt Balzano Leng
Racial Justice Advocates: Systemic Racism Unacknowledged, Unaddressed
On April 16, 2019, Hamden police officer Devin Eaton shot Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, a young Black couple singing love songs in their car. Since that date, Hamden Mayor Curt Leng has fostered a climate of inaction and complacency.
Despite Leng saying, “I have seen enough to recommend termination,” two years later, Eaton is yet to be fired from the Hamden Police Department.
The mayor’s refrain after the shooting in 2019 was: “Trust the process.” Similar requests, often coming from white men in power, have been made across the country and throughout history in response to calls for racial justice. How can Hamden residents trust the process when all we have seen are broken promises from the mayor, his administration and his allies on the Legislative Council?
We, a diverse group of Hamden residents fighting for racial justice, are writing to illuminate the mayor’s pattern of refusing to acknowledge racism in our community while taking actions that uphold structural racism.
The following is a brief synopsis of how Leng’s “process” has unfolded in Hamden. Equity forums were started, then quickly abandoned. Chokehold bans were championed, then passed with giant loopholes. Community policing programs were announced while ignoring the input of the community. Two police chief search processes were begun and interrupted, throwing out the contributions of diverse voices from across the community in favor of white men with connections.
Instead of taking real actions to address racist violence in Hamden, Leng offers feel-good soundbites on Facebook and crafted photo ops that distract from the need for real change. We denounce the culture of superficial public relations stunts that the mayor has overseen with the help of his inner circle. He walked Dixwell Avenue with the police chief carrying an “I Can’t Breathe” sign in response to racist police violence in Minnesota, but he hid in his office while his own constituents marched against racist police violence right here in Hamden. He convened a feel-good community conversation on equity, but he was a no-show at the first meeting and he hasn’t followed through on the scheduled series.
Leng took potshots at racist politicians far away, but defended the racist social media posts of the Hamden Police Commissioner Michael Iezzi. He and Councilperson Valerie Horsley supported a toothless resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, but fiercely advocated for using Covid-19 relief funds to purchase a $33,000 drone for the police department, under misleading pretenses, in the same meeting. He and Councilperson Kathleen Shoemaker campaigned on a “return to civility,” then weaponized those calls for civility, blocking his critics on social media, instead of engaging in dialogue about serious issues of racism, police accountability, and town finances. In public, he referred to the racism of two Hamden police officers, caught on body cameras, as “disgraceful” and opined that officer Andrew Lipford had “no business being part of Hamden law enforcement. Period.” Behind closed doors, he defended the officers’ actions and even celebrated the promotion of these racist officers.
He extolled seemingly progressive new community policing positions. When a school resource officer (SRO) assaulted a Black, middle school child, he failed to act, then doubled down, adding more SROs to his proposed budget. He pitches emergency counseling services and youth programs as alternatives to policing, but uses those positions to pad the police budget, which has increased 20 percent during his tenure.
Most recently, Leng had an opportunity to call out racism on the Hamden Legislative Council when Councilperson Valerie Horsley demanded Councilperson Justin Farmer, and only Farmer, refer to her as “Dr. Horsley,” and subsequently rallied the support of what she referred to as her “tribe” of women on social media. Horsley’s misuse of power was a display of entitlement and an attempt to silence Farmer as he questioned the mayor’s budget. Despite many community members of color and white allies calling out this behavior as harmful, including an open
letter co-signed by approximately 200 community members, Leng refused to comment publicly for over a week.
After 12 days of community dialogue on this issue, including a petition and rally at town hall condemning Horsley’s actions, the mayor released a statement that failed to name the harm that Horsley caused and further implied that Farmer was at least partially responsible for the incident. The statement called for healing without accountability and vaguely refers to “racial slurs” and “hate speech,” leaving the reader unclear as to what or whom he is referring.
While the mayor and Council President Mick McGarry felt compelled to publicly defend Horsley, neither made any public statement calling for civility or healing when Farmer was personally attacked by many racist, classist, and ageist public comments during the police chief confirmation vote or when Farmer’s home was struck by multiple bullets. This selective refereeing emboldens a culture where denigrating Farmer is seen as acceptable. Further, when naming a Public Safety Committee, McGarry did not include Farmer, citing a perceived conflict of interest due to Farmer’s advocacy for police accountability. Black representation from southern Hamden is critical on a Public Safety Committee.
The mayor frequently shares quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Facebook. Notably absent from the mayor’s selected quotes is King’s calling out of the white moderate.
“The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the…Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate…who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…” King writes in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
Leng consistently seeks this negative peace. His refusal to listen, self-reflect or hold himself and his political allies accountable are clear evidence that he uses his power as mayor to uphold racism.
On this second anniversary of Washington and Witherspoon’s shooting, we call on the mayor, the Legislative Council, and all Hamden residents to commit to antiracism and exercise our collective power for racial justice:
Mayor, we call on you to end this culture of upholding racism in Hamden. Publicly apologize to Farmer, name the harm that Horsley caused and reappoint a new police commission that will take meaningful action on police accountability.
McGarry and the Legislative Council, we call on you to pass a budget that gives meaning to your “racism as a public health crisis” resolution. The council should also establish an equity committee made up of members who can hold the council and our
town accountable to antiracist and anti-bias practices and policies. In order to effectively engage in this work, members of the council should commit to intensive antiracism training.
Hamden residents, we call on you to prioritize antiracism when you vote for town leaders this year. But your community also needs you to take action now. If you are outraged about what happened to George Floyd and Daunte Wright in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, let your elected officials know you’re equally upset by the racism here in Hamden. If you have a Black Lives Matter sign on your front lawn, call out the racism happening now in our town; talk to your neighbors, submit testimony to the Legislative Council, and let your town leaders know that Black lives matter in Hamden, too.
Rhonda Caldwell, Jack Perkins Davidson, Scott D. Friedman, Tiffany French Goffe, Cassi Meyerhoffer, Abdul-Razak Osmanu, Jessica Powell, Rich Rodriguez, Laurie Sweet, and Janina Tauro.
posted by: Hamdenresident on April 20, 2021 6:07pm
I am astonished that Mayor Leng’s statement does not include an apology for his effort to fuel the fire of this controversy.
On hearing about the events at the recent Council meeting, Leng made an inappropriate, unsolicited, and incorrect statement on Facebook
He wrote and Councilwoman Horsely quoted him, as follows: “I’m always impressed by you, your dedication and intelligence and your consistent hard work; and even if I wasn’t, I’d still call you the title you earned. It’s what you EARNED, and it’s the right thing to do, it’s that simple.”
Unfortunately, it’s NOT that simple, it’s NOT the right thing to do, and Mayor Leng should have known that he was completely in the wrong. Professional titles have no place at the Council table. I know, from my own experience, that it would have been absurd and incorrect to insist, when I was on the Council (1999-2005), that my colleagues at the Council table address me as Dr. Altman, during our deliberations, even though I have a doctoral degree from Yale University.
The implication, had I insisted on being addressed as Dr. Altman, would have been that I was more educated and, therefore, more important than my colleagues and, moreover, that I wanted them never to forget it. How wrong and inappropriate it would have been to insist on my professional title when I had been elected (1999-2005), by the voters of the 5th District, to sit at the table as a Councilwoman, with my peers.
When not sitting at the Council table, members of Council and anyone else, including the Mayor, can request that they be addressed by any title of their choosing (e.g., Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., Reverend or Your Excellency) but at the Council table all members of Council are equal and are addressed as Council(wo)man.
Councilman Farmer addressed Councilwoman Horsely appropriately and respectfully at the Council Table. Any suggestion that he did otherwise is COMPLETELY WRONG and Mayor LENG should have absolutely supported Farmer and not Horsely.
posted by: hamden voter on April 20, 2021 8:03pm
Thank you, to the New Haven Independent for revelatory coverage in Hamden over the last few years. Thank you, to the numerous Hamden residents for change who are illuminating the dishonesty and corruption. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
“The buck stops here.” Curt Leng presides over all of this (and more) in Hamden. To be clear, Horsley is one of his LC sycophants and has been for years; she should be held accountable (politically) for her shameful behavior. And yet, let’s not forget that this is another example of Balzano’s failed “leadership.”
He owns all this. Two years (!!!) after the Eaton incident, nothing but empty rhetoric and vague platitudes. Those dishonest quotes and phony gestures from the mayor were not an accident. He has a long record of being cozy (read: corrupt) with cops in order to secure electoral support. Quid pro quo. However, in this case, he needed to pretend to be anti-racist and pretend to hold cops accountable. And he did just that – pretend. Kudos to the authors for highlighting his phony historical record on anti-racism and his long list of inactions. Balzano’s rush to vigorously defend Horsley is just the latest example of the mayor’s true colors on issues of racism.
(Not surprisingly, the same playbook has been applied to town finances for nearly 2 decades: abject financial failure wrapped in his pervasive dishonesty and corruption.)