●And last month, authorities decided not to press charges against a homeowner who shot and killed a 20-year-old biracial man he found hiding on his porch in Slinger, Wis., outside Milwaukee. The March 6 shooting has prompted comparisons to the Martin case on local news stations.
“What these [incidents] do is let us know that the past still haunts us in the present,” said Robert Johnson Jr., a lawyer who teaches Africana studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. “We have made tremendous progress. . . . Despite this progress, the vestiges of this past raise their head every so often.”
Residents said there were few obvious tensions in Stratford, a town of roughly 50,000 that is three-quarters white. But the incident immediately revealed a fault line that long marked the city. The vast majority of South End residents are black or Hispanic, and the arrests immediately became a cause for protest there, making clear what had always been true: Black and white residents in Stratford see much of what happens in town differently.
Barnum Avenue, a road dotted with strip malls, is the physical dividing line.
“I always took offense to that. People tried to divide our town as if Barnum Avenue were the Mason-Dixon line,” said DeCilio, who attended Stratford High School, which is south of Barnum.
Still, north of Barnum, home lots tend to be bigger. People perceive the schools as better, even though the reality is far more nuanced. People think “everything is better on the north side,” said Stephanie Philips, who is black and replaced O’Neal on the Town Council.
Meanwhile, the neighborhoods south of Barnum are home to the city’s low-income public housing and several halfway houses. Crime is perceived as higher there, though March crime statistics show offenses were about equal both north and south of Barnum. What is indisputable is that South End residents believe the police patrol their part of town with a heavy hand.
Emma Brooks, the first African American woman on the Town Council, said she was inspired to run for office in 2006 after she witnessed a white police officer punch a handcuffed black suspect twice after finding a gun in his car. She protested, which she said prompted the officer to walk up to her and wave the gun’s ammunition clip in her face.
“Do you want this in your neighborhood?” the officer said, according to Brooks. She said she tried to make a complaint at police headquarters but got nowhere.
“They ran the department as they saw fit,” she said.