NORWALK, Conn. – In the continuing fallout from Monday's alleged "gang activity" on a Norwalk beach, the Norwalk Police Union has called for the Rev. Nellie Mann to step down as Norwalk's police chaplain.
Mann was quoted in The Hour on Tuesday accusing a Norwalk police officer of racial profiling. She was protesting reports the officer on duty at the beach said members of a large group of teenagers who created problems at Calf Pasture Beach on Memorial Day were gang members, belonging to the Crips or the Bloods.
In a statement released to the media late Wednesday, police union President Sgt. Thomas Roncinske called on Mann to resign immediately.
"Two weeks ago Rev. Mann spoke at the department's police memorial ceremony praising the sacrifices of our police officers," Roncinske wrote. "She marched in the Memorial Day Parade with our police officers. Our officers now feel betrayed by her comments. The union has lost its trust and faith in her ability to serve our membership as chaplin and she should resign immediately."
Mann, who had not seen the statement, declined to comment Wednesday night.
From 100 to 200 teenagers, many wearing red or blue – colors associated with the Crips and Bloods – caused a disturbance on Calf Pasture Beach on Monday afternoon, causing the only police officer on duty at the beach to feel "quite overwhelmed," Chief Harry Rilling said. In calling for help, the officer said he was dealing with Crips and Bloods. That broadcast was overheard by The Hour, which reported that a massive fight among gang members had caused the closure of the beach.
"The officer, in the heat of the moment, said over the radio, and it was unfortunate that it was heard by the newspaper, but the officer's intent was just to make sure that enough backup responded to get the situation under control."
Rilling also said the beach wasn't closed. Police kept people from entering for about a half-hour, he said.
Mann was surprised to hear late Wednesday that the characterization of the teenagers as belonging to the Crips or the Bloods had not been made for public consumption. She said she was too tired to respond to the demand that she resign but said the protest referring to racial profiling came from many members of her community, including other clergy members. Common Councilman David Watts confirmed that statement.
Watts said he had been working with Mann on a second draft of the statement, which was necessary because so many people wanted to sign their name to it. But she had already sent her version to The Hour, which attributed it to her because it was from her email address.
Members of his community felt "hurt" by the characterization of the children as gang members, Watts said. He said he had gotten several phone calls from parents whose children had been among the group at the beach, who were offended and said their kids were not in a gang. He said he was sure Mann had also gotten phone calls.
Many of the teens had been at the Memorial Day parade, either marching in it or watching it, Mann said. Some were wearing white T-shirts and red or blue hats as a symbol of patriotism. She is quoted in The Hour as saying, "It is not fair that children wearing our nation's colors, some of whom marched in the Memorial Day parade earlier that day to recognize our fallen heroes, should be labeled as street gang members (Blood and Crips) simply for wearing any color, least of all our nation's colors."
She went on the call for an apology from the officer.
"No apology will be forthcoming from the officer because he did nothing wrong," Roncinske said in his statement. "The apology should come from Rev. Mann."
Rilling addressed the situation with the media Wednesday.
"I've spoken to Rev. Mann today," he said. "I've expressed my concerns that if she felt that if the officers acted inappropriately or if they were labeling anybody that she should have contacted me. I could have provided her with information that might have made things a little more clear and maybe helped her understand what really did take place. I felt making comments publicly without giving us the opportunity to address her concerns was not the proper approach. She agreed with me and she apologized and she said 'I'm really very sorry; I didn't mean to do that. If I had done that it would have been more effective way to learn what did take place.' ... She made it very clear to me that she did not believe that we were racially profiling."