How a Quiet Suburb's Police Force Drove Out Latinos

East Haven, Conn., is a quiet suburb of New Haven with a "peaceful, small-town setting and thriving businesses." Unless you are Latino, in which case it's the place where you're targeted with "traffic stops, false arrests and even jailhouse beatings."

From the late 19th through the mid 20th century, a number of towns across the U.S. instituted official or unofficial policies preventing minorities—usually African-Americans—from buying or owning property within the city limits. They were called "Sundown Towns" thanks to warnings that blacks and other persecuted groups should avoid being caught in these places after sundown. Now, East Haven isn't officially a "Sundown Town." But it sounds like the East Haven Police Department sure is trying to make it one:

Malave, a probation officer who works in New Haven, says the racial abuse is so bad that he only crosses the town line into East Haven to go home. He and his wife are now preparing to sell their house and move, joining an exodus of Hispanics who say police have hassled them with traffic stops, false arrests and even jailhouse beatings.

The Justice Department has started a civil rights investigation, and the FBI recently opened a criminal probe. But that has not changed things on Main Street, where restaurants and stores that cater to Hispanics are going out of business.

If the goal of police was to ruin East Haven's Hispanic community, some grudgingly say they have succeeded.

How a Quiet Suburb's Police Force Drove Out Latinos

And don't think of complaining when the police "park outside [your] shops and stop any Latinos"! The wife of Ecuadorean immigrant Luis Rodriguez, who owns Los Amigos Grocery, tried videotaping the cops. Her husband was then arrested and jailed for five days for "child neglect" because his three-year-old was unsupervised outside the store.

And even being a cop won't help you. Santiago Malave, a former New Haven police officer and current probation officer, encountered the cops while engaging in a dispute with his wife. Hesays he was arrested for "disorderly conduct" as soon as he let slip he was born in Puerto Rico. "I tried to talk to the sergeant, but he said, 'You spics don't have rights here,'" he told the AP.

The Justice Department, which started investigating the town last year, is "still looking into alleged discriminatory policing." (It has "identified preliminary concerns... over issues including outdated policies and a lack of clear guidance on the use of force.") And Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic has filed a suit on behalf of nine immigrants alleging police beatings (and accusing the officers of "using ethnic slurs.")

But until something changes, the message seems clear: Latinos aren't welcome in East Haven.

Hispanics in East Haven say more than half their population - estimated at 1,900 by the Census Bureau - has moved away.

"They destroyed our future here," [Restaurant owner Mario] Marin said of police. He said even out-of-town diners have stopped coming since officers launched raids on the restaurant's parking lot, towing away any cars with out-of-state license plates.

[AP; images via AP]