NAACP recommends actions for borough to address racial climate

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Investigation cites ‘good old boy system’ in Naugatuck

NAUGATUCK — The Greater Waterbury NAACP laid out more than a dozen recommendations for Naugatuck officials to address the racial climate and a “good old boy system” in the borough.

The recommendations are part of an investigative report the NAACP released Wednesday into the racial climate and culture in the borough.

The NAACP launched its independent investigation after screenshots of Snapchat posts made by the daughter of Police Chief Steven Hunt and Naugatuck High School Associate Principal Johnna Hunt surfaced on social media in January. The posts included racist and violent language, and two referenced shooting Black people.

The posts were made around the time Steven Hunt was sworn in as Naugatuck police chief in March 2019. They were shared as private messages with another teenager, who shared them on social media this year.

The investigation focused on whether there were any civil rights violations, as well as the racial climate and culture in Naugatuck.

It concluded that the Snapchat posts didn’t violate any civil rights, but rose to the level of terroristic threats and hate speech.

“We did not find the child violated civil rights of residents, but she did engage in hate speech and terroristic threats,” Greater Waterbury NAACP President Ginnie-Rae Clay said.

The three-member NAACP investigative team talked to more than 100 stakeholders in the community, including students, elected officials, police officers and borough employees.

“The majority of people that reached out to us were residents,” Clay said. “The people that reached out to us were diverse.”

The report states residents and stakeholders expressed concerns about generations of a “good old boy system” that dictates which people will have opportunities in Naugatuck. Residents believe the Hunts appear to benefit from this system, the report states.

(The Greater Waterbury NAACP released the following report.)

The investigation concluded that racial tensions in the borough are possibly at an all-time high, the culture at the Naugatuck Police Department is reported to be that “of a dictatorship that manages by fear,” and that it’s been reported that high school students are fearful and outraged that the Hunts’ daughter isn’t restricted from the school.

“These folks are looking for change. They have a stake in Naugatuck,” Clay said. “They want things in their town to be fair. They want to live in a town they are proud of.”

The report lists 14 recommendations, including that the Hunts’ daughter issue a public apology, attend cultural sensitivity training and not have access to her father’s firearms.

The NAACP also recommended the borough hold town hall meetings to openly discuss issues, establish a diversity, equity and inclusion committee, hire and promote people of color to teaching and leadership positions, and create a borough-wide policy to end favoritism.

Clay said she doesn’t think it’s realistic or fair to recommend the Hunts be removed from their jobs.

“Our investigation did not investigate the Hunts in their respective jobs and if they’re capable of doing their jobs,” Clay said.

The NAACP met with borough officials Wednesday to go over the report.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said he respectfully disagrees with some of the report’s findings, but agrees with its recommendations.

“I think that some of things that are mentioned in the report are the perception of people and not based on reality in the last couple of years,” Hess said. “As far as how the town is run, we always strive to hire people and appoint people based on the criteria of ‘Naugy Strong,’ and to me ‘Naugy Strong’ by definition includes everyone.”

Hess said officials will work with the NAACP to increase diversity, inclusion and equity in the borough. He said officials are going to work to establish a resident-driven diversity equity and inclusion committee, and hire a diversity officer to facilitate the work of the committee.

“I commend the mayor to being open and honest and forthright and wanting the absolute best for the town,” Clay said. “He told us that he just wants the best.”