Rumors swirled yesterday morning on social media: An Antifa-led protest was headed to Westport.
Several dozen protesters did gather at Jesup Green. Assisted by Westport police, they marched across the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge to Norwalk, then returned. They ended up — chanting “Black lives matter!” — at the police station on Jesup Road, where Chief Foti Koskinas spoke movingly to them of his experiences as a first-generation America.
But last night — out of caution, fear or both — at least 2 downtown businesses boarded their windows.
Tiffany on the Post Road …
… and the Sunglass Hut on Main Street. (Photos/Chip Stephens)
On Thursday — a few days before ICE may begin arresting members of undocumented families, including nearby immigrants who are not targets of raids — the Westport Police Department issued a press release.
The department noted its strict adherence to the Connecticut Trust Act, which defines the circumstances and duration under which a prisoner in the custody of state or local police or corrections can be held.
The WPD added that it “recognizes and truly values the diversity of the community we serve, and seeks to foster an environment of trust…. This agency will always treat all with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
Today, Police Chief Foti Koskinas — a first-generation immigrant from Greece — expanded on his department’s statement.
He is concerned that the lessons of history have not been learned. In another era, he says, police departments used fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators. Those experiences — and the images of them — stigmatized law enforcement. That distrust has lingered, in some cases for decades.
“Law enforcement should be the last to intervene in social and political issues — if ever,” Koskinas says.
“The primary role of law enforcement is to serve. Very infrequently, our role is to protect, and help create an environment where all members of our community can thrive. But when we do need to protect people, they must be able to trust us.”
The population recently targeted by ICE is “people we welcome into our community,” Koskinas says. “We employ them. They are our neighbors. We hold up the ideal that Westport, our state and country are places where they can contribute and enrich their lives, their families’ lives, and all of our lives. If they work hard and give their families better lives than where they came from, they can succeed.”
However, he continues, “others wearing badges then turn around and wipe that away with threats and raids. We separate families, detain and deport them. We are better than this. We have to find better ways of dealing with this situation.”
Koskinas is hardly soft on crime. Criminals will be treated as criminals, no matter what their immigration status, he notes. Anyone who puts Westport at risk — who victimizes residents and visitors — will face consequences.
However, he notes, being in this country undocumented is not a criminal offense. It’s a violation of immigration (civil) law — not criminal law.
That’s why local police departments don’t ask about immigration status, or arrest undocumented people.
To serve and protect everyone in town — residents, employees, visitors and anyone passing through — the police must have their trust. They gain it by treating everyone with dignity and respect.
Not, Koskinas emphasizes, by turning them over to ICE for family separation and deportation.
The Westport Police Department just issued this statement:
The Westport Police Department has recently received inquiries from members of our community concerning our policies on federal immigration enforcement, specifically the level of this department’s participation in these activities.
Chief Foti Koskinas would like to reassure the community that as a first generation immigrant himself, he is sensitive to and shares the concerns of the community at large as it relates to this matter.
The Westport Police Department is in no way affiliated with or actively participating in federal efforts at immigration enforcement.
This department strictly adheres to and trains its officers on the Connecticut Trust Act, which clearly defines the circumstances and duration under which a prisoner in the custody of state or local police or corrections can be held solely on the basis of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer request.
Initially enacted into law on January 1, 2014, it is also noteworthy to mention that legislation was also recently passed updating this act, further limiting these conditions. Click here for a link to the original legislation.
The Westport Police Department recognizes and truly values the diversity of the community we serve, and seeks to foster an environment of trust in which victims of crime actively seek our assistance regardless of immigration status. As has been set forth as a guiding principle in our mission statement, this agency will always treat all with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
Westport jumps the gun a bit on our fireworks celebration. We held ours Monday night. It’s the town’s biggest and best party of the year.
The cost is just $35 — and that’s only if you want to park at Compo. (Plus, you can pack as many people as you want into your vehicle.)
Otherwise you can park at Longshore, the office complex on Greens Farms Road or a friend’s house, and walk to the beach.
Still, people complain.
The $35 — a price that has remained the same for years — helps fund Westport PAL. They’ve sponsored the event for years. Recently, Melissa & Doug have helped out, ensuring that more of the money goes back to PAL programs.
Under the direction of Westport Police officer Ned Batlin — and a small group of volunteers — PAL does plenty. For example, they provide:
Youth sports teams and clinics. Each year, over 2,000 youngsters participate in 20 or so programs, including football, wrestling, cheerleading and much more.
The ice rink at Longshore (one of Westport’s favorite winter activities, for people of all ages and abilities).
The PAL Longshore Ice Rink.
Equipment and other needs for a variety of Staples High School teams.
College scholarships (more than 300 graduates so far, and counting).
Support for Toys for Tots, DARE and other programs.
That’s just the tangible stuff. By partnering with so many efforts, Westport PAL shows kids that the police really are their pals.
Westport PAL is our July 4th Unsung Heroes.
And every other day too.
Officer Ned Batlin, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Deputy Chief Sam Arciola all help Westport PAL go.
The Levitt Pavilion was packed yesterday — with push-up people.
The view from the Levitt Pavilion stage.
Hundreds of men, women and kids — from super-jacked to usually sedentary — did as many push-ups as they could in an hour.
First Selectman Jim Marpe banged out his. So did Chief of Police Foti Koskinas. And Paul Newman’s grandson.
Chief of Police Foti Koskinas and Push Against Cancer founder Andy Berman.
Which was fitting, because all the money raised goes to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the fantastic getaway for boys and girls with cancer and other serious diseases. It was founded, of course, by Westport’s own Paul Newman.
The 9th annual Push Against Cancer raised well over $120,000 — a record. That makes nearly $500,000 since the event began.
Congrats to founder and mastermind Andy Berman. To the many police and firefighters who helped make it happen.
And, of course, to everyone who participated — and feels very, very sore today.
(Hat tip: photographers Sabine Foreman, Andrew Kindt, Adam Vengrow)
In the aftermath of yesterday’s threatened shooting at Staples High School, there are a host of heroes.
Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer, and her central office staff
Staples High School administrators and counselors, who acted quickly and decisively, after receiving information about the threat from…
…A student who knew exactly what to do — and had the courage to do it — upon hearing of a potential threat
Staples teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, cafeteria workers — you name it — who had never practiced a “shelter in place” drill, but showed calm, caring professionalism all day
Staples students themselves. Though worried, they listened to directions, followed them, helped each other — friends and strangers — and made a difficult day as okay as it could be
Westport police, who raced to Staples, worked seamlessly with educators, and helped create a sense of order, security and safety. Police also…
… worked with Staples’ custodial staff, to ensure that the entire sprawling building was safe
The school system’s transportation coordinator, and everyone at Dattco. Drivers — most of whom live out of town — came in quickly from wherever they were, and helped coordinate an orderly early dismissal
First selectman Jim Marpe, who worked with Palmer and Police Chief Foti Koskinas to coordinate town efforts
The Board of Education, who were in the loop and supportive too.
There may be others I have missed. Everyone above will probably say, “I was just doing my job.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. All did their jobs wonderfully. They did them together, as a team — with people they’ve worked with for years, and those they’d never met.
Westport averted a tragedy yesterday. It didn’t happen by accident.
THANKS to the Town of Westport’s Facebook page for providing this video (livestreamed by Jonathan Kaner). It includes 1st selectman Jim Marpe, superintendent of schools Dr. Colleen Palmer, Staples High School principal James D’Amico, and Westport police chief Foti Koskinas.
School starts Thursday. (Sorry, kids — and parents — for the buzzkill.)
To raise awareness — and reduce the chances that notoriously inattentive drivers will be surprised to see school buses and kids sharing the streets – the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association just released a public service video.
Viewers all over the state will see it. It’s clever and punchy. The stars on screen include 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, and Westport cops, students, athletes — even our buses.
The message is clear: With buses on the road, allow extra travel time. Be alert. Don’t you dare pass when bus lights are flashing. Remind your kids how to behave too.
Perhaps Westport is featured in this statewide video because local drivers are the worst in Connecticut.
Perhaps it’s because the Concept Studio of Westport helped produce the PSA.
It was unclear whether a recent toilet-paper incident near Old Mill Beach was related to a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car.
But there’s no mistaking this vandalism.
Westport’s Unitarian Church is known for its focus on diversity, inclusion, openness and dedication to social justice. Its handsome building in the woods off Lyons Plains Road provides a safe haven for individuals, groups and causes of many kinds.
Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Speakers at the dedication included TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey; State Senator Toni Boucher; 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.
The Unitarian Church’s banner.
Unitarian Church representatives say the sign was “just a first step to engage with members of the congregation, local officials, interfaith clergy, and the community to affirm the need for dialogue and non-violent action towards the ending of racism in our society.”
When the banner went up, church officials fielded a number of phone calls. Some were supportive and thankful. Some were questioning. Some were opposed.
David Vita — director of social justice — says, “It made for lively, respectful conversations.”
In the early hours of Thursday morning — just days after neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.
The empty signpost.
Vita says, “It’s hard not to connect the destruction of the banner with a changed political climate, and an emboldened rise in racism.”
Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse adds, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”
Marpe notes, “Given the current climate in this country and the state, the administration of our town and the Westport Police Department will not stand for this behavior. We will dedicate our resources to identifying the person or persons responsible for this vandalism. We urge our community to be respectful of the opinions of others and their right to express them, even if they may differ from their own. Hatred and bigotry are not welcome here.”
Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We support and respect the Unitarian Church, its members and their message of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance. The police department is working with the church administration to prevent further incidents.”
All that remains of the “Black Lives Matter” banner. (Photo/David Vita)
The church is moving forward. This Sunday’s 10 a.m. service — planned before the incident — is “Heart of Racial Justice.”
Meanwhile, Morehouse promises to replace this sign. If it’s vandalized, it too will be replaced.
That will continue, he says, “until such a time as all lives — black, brown, gay or marginalized — matter as much as white lives do. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”
And, he notes, he will commit $100 to the NAACP whenever the banner is vandalized again.
(Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should call the Police Department detective bureau: 203-341-6080.)
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