But she said she backed off from buying a house that she had visited several times after she found a noose in the front yard. She ended up going to the South End, where she was running a Caribbean restaurant when Gugliotti arrested O’Neal and her daughter on March 21, 2006.
The incident resulted in weeks of tensions that gave way to dueling lawsuits from Gugliotti and O’Neal, all of which were dismissed after several years of litigation. O’Neal eventually paid a $50 fine for disturbing the peace. Titasheen Mitchell faced juvenile charges, which her mother said were dropped.
Meanwhile, Gugliotti has moved up in the department, earning at least two promotions, and Titasheen is now nearly 21. Her mother says she is attending community college while working at a local hospital. Her mother said Titasheen has no desire to talk about the incident. But in the intervening years, Stratford has had a long-running conversation about it.
Trying to heal
In December 2006, at the direction of the mayor, the town’s community services department held a town meeting inviting residents to talk about race. It drew about 100 people of all backgrounds. The mayor came. So did the police chief and school superintendent. O’Neal showed up, too.
With the help of the nonprofit group Everyday Democracy, which aims to help communities find ways to talk about race, Stratford residents were invited to join small groups that met for several weeks to discuss their racial backgrounds, perceptions and stereotypes, and the incident.
“You would have white people see the incident as an artifice,” said Coakley, who helped lead the discussions. “The African Americans would say, ‘No. This is how we live our lives. Every time someone is a little out of line, it is an incident.’ ”
Out of those discussions, Coakley and a few dozen other people formed an oversight committee called Citizens Addressing Racial Equity. The committee has conducted resident surveys on views of the police department, worked with the public schools to establish an annual job fair to recruit people of color, and a couple of years back saw the town’s library association name “The Black Girl Next Door” as its book of choice for the townwide reading program. Last month, Stratford named Patrick Ridenhour its first black police chief.
The incident gave “rise to some of the things that are taking place here to move the town forward and become one Stratford,” Ridenhour said. “Everyone wants to get past it and move forward.”
There is a feeling around town, with Ridenhour leading the police force and a citizens committee focused on race, that perhaps things are as good as they are going to get.
The racial equity committee, which meets monthly and now has about 30 members, took a vote recently on whether to disband. They chose to keep the committee going, but an important question persists: What more could they do?
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford in Washington contributed to this report.