Coffee Mug Fuels Controversy

Tracy Gordon Fox, Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, July 26, 2007

A coffee mug used by Department of Public Safety Commissioner John A. Danaher III showing the Confederate flag in a Civil War battle has angered black leaders who said it was insensitive to display a symbol of hate, particularly when the state police have been under fire for complaints of racism.

The issue arose Wednesday night after the NAACP met with members of the Commission on African American Affairs to discuss how to address recent allegations of rampant racism within the state police and state Department of Correction. The African American Affairs Commission is a group of citizens appointed by the legislature to improve and promote the well-being of African Americans in the state.

After the meeting, Dawne Westbrook, the attorney for the NAACP, said she was contacted by a state trooper who was offended by the mug, which she saw Danaher drinking from when she met with him in his office over the racism issue and other problems within the department. Danaher has written a letter of apology to the trooper.

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While Danaher has sent the letter of apology to Master Sgt. Theresa Freeman, and said he has taken the mug home, he said it depicts an artist’s rendition of the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, with the beaten Confederate soldiers retreating.

Danaher said he has used the mug for seven years since his sons bought it for him as a gift when they visited Gettysburg.

“There are pictures of soldiers on horseback in retreat having lost,” Danaher said. The flags were the “size of a postage stamp,” he added.

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But black leaders said Danaher should have been more sensitive about the symbol, particularly when he was meeting with a black trooper. Gov. M. Jodi Rell at the state police graduation last week said racism within the state police “will be rooted out and eliminated.” She said “unequal treatment, harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.”

But Wednesday night, several troopers, former troopers and correction officers met with the NAACP and then went to the African American Affairs Commission meeting. They requested a public hearing be held on the issue of racism in the state within the next several weeks, along with a meeting with Rell.

Black leaders said there needs to be more understanding about racially sensitive issues such as display of the Confederate flag.

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“It’s associated with hate groups nationwide,” Westbrook said. “For someone in a position of leadership who heads public safety, what does it say about the issue of race relations and insensitivity?”

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