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Black Officers Recall "The Struggle" Against Discrimination Inside The Waterbury PD
Cicero Booker Jr. had to sue the City of Waterbury in federal court in 1981 to shatter the glass ceiling that had kept black police officers from getting promotions inside the Waterbury Police Department.
Photographs By John Murray
Editor’s note - Black police officers faced systemic racism inside the Waterbury Police Department and were by-passed for promotion until Cicero Booker Jr. (middle) filed a lawsuit in 1981. The struggle for equality took decades and the powerful story was shared February 16th at the PAL Learning Center. In addition to Booker (who retired as a lieutenant), the panelists included retired Lt. Sam Beamon, right, and retired Waterbury Assistant Deputy Chief – and current Chief of the Strafford Police Department – Patrick Ridenhour. The moderator was current Deputy Police Chief Vernon Riddick. It was compelling night filled with dramatic testimony and The Waterbury Observer recorded and transcribed the event for our readers. The entire community of Waterbury owes these men a debt of gratitude. In addition to serving and protecting the city against criminals, they battled through bigotry inside the Waterbury PD to help transform the city into a more decent and humane place to live. Thank you.
Vernon Riddick: I was asked a few weeks ago at an NAACP meeting if the Police Department, or PAL, were doing anything for Black History Month. I said I don’t think we are, and I don’t think we have done anything in the past. We brainstormed together and we came up with the idea about documenting the history of the African American police officers in the City of Waterbury. We thought it would be very interesting and be an engaging topic that we think everybody would get something out of it.
For those of you that don’t know who I am, I’m a big tall guy. My name is Vernon Riddick. I currently serve as Deputy Chief of Police here in the Waterbury Police Department. Let me introduce our panel. I’ll start at the end and work our way down to the young buck. We have retired Lieutenant Samuel Beamon with over 28 years of service with the Waterbury Police Department. Let’s have a quick round of applause for that. He deserves it. He’ll kick me if I don’t mention this; he’s an honorable and proud Marine. Next we have Cicero Booker Jr. with 33 years of service with the Waterbury Police Department and he retired at the rank of Lieutenant. He’s another Marine. The last, but certainly not the least, Patrick Ridenhour retired as Assistant Deputy Chief of the Waterbury Police Department. Patrick currently serves as the Chief of Police in the Stratford Police Department, the first African American to do so in the history of that city. We are extremely proud of Patrick. All these gentlemen on our panel have served as mentors to me. Even though Pat is younger than me, his wisdom is well beyond his years.
We are pretty free and open ended this evening. We are going to start off the panel with an open question to them talking about some of the first African American police officers even prior to them coming onto the job. For those of you that don’t know, Mr. Booker’s father was the first African American police officer in the history of Waterbury. I think that’s tremendous that a legacy was passed down from father to son. I think it was the only father son combination as African Americans in the history of the police department. So, that’s wonderful. For those of you who also don’t know, Amus Ridenhour (Patrick’s father) also served in the police department for fifteen years before he got hurt. He went on disability retirement after fifteen years. I believe he was affectionately called Moose.
Mr. Booker if you want to start, I believe you have the most seniority here. Prior to you coming onto the police department, what was the make up of the department? Were there many African Americans? What made you decide to want to be a Police Officer?
Cicero Booker Jr.: Good evening everybody. Thank you for inviting me and putting this forum together. It’s important for the community and the City Waterbury to share some of the historical points within the Waterbury PD. As you all know my father was the first African American policeman in Waterbury. He came on the Department in October of 1943. I was 5 years old. When I turned 17 I joined the Marine Corps. I came home at 20 and hadn’t been around the United States, and hadn’t really seen the different things within the Department. I approached my Dad and said “Dad, why aren’t there any black sergeants, lieutenants in your Department? They are all patrolman.”
Patrick Ridenhour, left, Cicero Booker Jr., middle, and Sam Beamon spoke at the PAL Learning Center.
He looked at me and said, “Well if you want to find that answer why don’t you come on and do it and become a policeman?” To me that was a challenge coming from my Dad, because he didn’t think I could do it. So I joined the Police Department at 22. Over time, I saw why the disparity existed within the Department. Many officers of higher rank and city officials felt that the minority officers would better be represented on the street level where people could see them. The concept was to keep them on the street so the NAACP won’t get on us. That was actually said. My ears have actually heard this. Another point that was said was we don’t have to worry too much because we don’t have the smart African Americans on the Department. That really disturbed me. It disturbed me enough to put some initiatives together to try to change the concept. I even went to try and recruit people to the Department.
Some of the young men who are attorneys today that are African American said, “why would I come on the Waterbury Police Department and be like your father and others and just be an entry level? Why wouldn’t I want to move up?” I said, “But you would have the education and the skills that would push up and force promotions, but they didn’t want to get involved.”
So it had to be done with those officers from within. There were 8 officers on the Department at the time and they had the habit of replacing one for one. When one officer leaves another one would come on. Well, I replaced Bill Riddick. When he left, I was hired. It was always that way. We never got over the number of 8. Our assignments were predominantly the North End of the City. I worked a number of years on North Main and East Farms, North Square, and lower Cooke Street. You rotated between those three beats and never went any place else.
We knew that people of color circulated the city and we wanted to be involved with the city as a whole, involved in all the communities in the city. There were some efforts from the officers and with the NAACP to change that particular concept.
Riddick: Did your father share with you some of the obstacles and problems that he may have encountered?
Deputy Chief of the Waterbury Police Department, Vernon Riddick, served as the moderator.
Booker: My father did share some of the stuff as far as working in the community. He worked mostly in the North Square. When the change came about he went to Baldwin Street and he stayed on Baldwin Street until he retired. He never worked around in the Downtown area. He was a man that had many years of service and was treated like a rookie when he moved to a different beat.
They tried to embarrass us. I was put me on motor patrol when I had never investigated an accident. Never. So, I got smart, we had a friend up in the training academy that was a Waterbury cop who was in charge and he let me sit in on the accident investigation classes. It seemed like every time I studied a class and came to work that day I had to investigate an accident. That’s how I was able to prove a point that we can do this given the proper training, even though some times you had to take it upon yourself to get the proper training.
It was all up to the individual man, what he wanted to do. Prior to that we didn’t have women. We had one. She was made to deal with women.
There was a lot that the African American officer had to endure. Number one, he wasn’t liked too well by members of the department. Number two, members of his own community felt like he was an Uncle Tom because he had joined the department. You had to take both of those concepts and live with them. I learned how to live with them and be comfortable with it. Sam and Pat also had to. We had to do this if we wanted to be meaningful to those who wanted to be law abiding. That was the key factor.
Riddick: Thank you. Lt. Beamon, what were some of the reasons that you wanted to come onto the Police Department, and what are some of the challenges that were told to you prior to you coming on?
Sam Beamon: Growing up in the North End of Waterbury I was very fortunate that right down the street from where I grew up was Jimmy Matthews, a black detective, and also, Cicero Booker, Sr. You’d see these individuals on a daily basis and they were role models for our community. When I came out of the U.S. Marine Corps and went on to the police department they asked me how far do you expect to get in the department? I told the lady from civil service that I intended to be Superintendent. They had never heard a black man say that before, but I was always taught to shoot for the top, and if I fall a little bit short, I’ll make it further than anybody else has.
Sam Beamon was the first black police officer to gain the rank of Lieutenant inside the Waterbury PD.
When I came on, I walked the beat mainly in the West End. I did walk the North Square, but then they offered me a car. They asked if I would like to go in the motor patrol and I asked if the car had a heater in it? They said yes, and I jumped for it. I spent a year and a half as a helper learning how to do accident investigations, how to handle domestics, how to deal with bar fights and all kinds of aspects of law enforcements. I did for a year and a half.
Riddick: Could you explain what a helper is?
Beamon: Back then the driver was in charge of the car and in charge of a specific area of the city. The helper basically took care of the car and cleaned the car and took care of whatever the driver wanted. It was a learning position. After a year and a half, they made me a driver. I was the first black accident investigator on a regular basis. Once I made the day shift people were astonished to see a black man drive a police car because that was not something that happened very often in Waterbury. Six months after I was on the day shift they eliminated the driver and helper positions. Everybody was a driver. So I can’t say they changed it because I was there, but all of a sudden things changed.
Riddick: What time frame? What years?
Beamon: This was really very scary because we’re talking between 1970-75 when things changed. 1978 is when things really changed with the lawsuit. We’ll get to the lawsuit in a few minutes.
Riddick: Lt. Beamon you heard about some of the challenges that the African American officers were facing. What made you want to become a police officer? You saw some of the role models in Mr. Matthews and Mr. Booker Sr. Was that it, or was there something else that resonated with you?
Beamon: That is a very good question. I was working at Pratt and Whitney and I was a parts inspector out there. I wasn’t getting dirty and it was a very good job, and then one guy said they need cops in Waterbury. I said, “I don’t want to be no cop. I’m 22 years old and I’m having a good time. I’m not thinking about law enforcement.”
But he talked me into taking the test, and I was fortunate enough to come out with a number 5 on the test, and he came out number 8. They said they were going to bring 7 officers on and he said he wasn’t going to come because one of the guys dropped out. I said you talked me into this, you’re coming. We both came on. This individual is white. We both came on the Waterbury Police Department at the same time, but when you wind up in an inner city you only have so many role models, so many individuals that you can look to and point to and say that was a positive influence on you. It could be a teacher, it could be a postman.
What do the kids see now days? They see a drug dealer out on the corner, and not the right influence that we want to give our children. I had teachers and Sunday school teachers point me in the right direction. I felt first of all that being a police officer was an honorable profession. Second of all, I hadn’t even been to college and college was not there for me. I went to a trade school and I had been feeling my way through life at that point in time. I felt that being a police officer was a very honorable profession and it was something to look up to. Not so much that I wanted people to look up to me, but I wanted to be around individuals that were about something. We talk about Moose….Amus….he was always around. You’ve got Cicero Booker’s father. As Cicero said, he was one of 8. I had the honor of working with Cicero Sr. on Baldwin Street for a couple of days before he retired. As he said, there were always 8 black police officers, so when he left someone else came on.
Riddick: Now, the 8, was that an unofficial number or was there a regulation somewhere?
Beamon: There was no regulation. That’s just what they felt like having. Once one left, another one came on. When Amus retired, my cousin Paul came on. It was one of those things. It was there, but it wasn’t right. You knew it wasn’t right. You had too many smart individuals that could be on the job and one of the things that I tried to express to the younger cops is that they can’t even get to where they are today by themselves. Cicero and I we stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. The ones that were just satisfied with being on the police department. We weren’t just satisfied with the police department, we wanted to make things fair and make rank. We didn’t ask for anybody to do anything for us except for giving us a level playing field, and that’s where the lawsuit came. I told you I’d get to the lawsuit.
Riddick: Before we get to the lawsuit, there is a question from the audience.
Woman in the audience: You still haven’t answered the question of why you wanted to be a policeman. What did you see out there on the police force that made you feel like you could be an improvement to the policemen already on the force?
Beamon: That’s a very good question. That’s very hard. I’ve got to go back to 1970. I had just gotten married. Being a policeman was a steady job and it was a prestigious position to be in. I felt that I could make a difference within the black community. In 1969, when I first got out of the Marine Corps, I saw my first riot and I didn’t like what I saw in North Square. I saw my community being torn apart and burned. I saw a couple of what you can call atrocities, police brutality on different individuals. I knew my being on the police department, that I could make some sort of a difference.
Booker: Let me share with you my concept. I came on in 1961 and I was on during the 1960’s when the concept of “burn baby burn” was in place. Every time I looked in the mirror I saw that I was black, and when I looked at the television and saw black people fighting for equality in the south I agreed with what they were saying, but I was confused.
I got in my car, and my wife can verify it, and drove to North Carolina. I talked with Emily Benton Booker, my grandmother, and I sat down with her and she is quite a religious person, and we opened the Bible and talked. She said that I sounded like a Martin Luther King and wanted to know why I there? Grandma, I said, there’s something I need to know about the treatment of the past so I can know where I’m going to go in the future.
She looked at me and said “Son,” that’s what she called me. “Son, I had ten children, five girls and five boys. I never told my children how I was treated or how their grandparents were treated. If I didn’t tell them, I’m not going to tell you.” And I said, “Grandma, you just told me. The treatment was so horrible that you just told me without telling me.”
She didn’t want us to hate. Now I knew because I was contemplating quitting the department because I didn’t know which way I wanted to go. I believed in what was happening and I was going to leave. With that conversation with her, I knew where I had to go and where I had to be. I had to be where the African American people who wanted to have those changes and wanted them law abiding. That was the side of Martin Luther King, not the side of the Black Panthers or all that type of street activity.
Those that wanted the safety of law, I would be there to see that it happened. You didn’t have the trust of a person of non-color those days. So I felt as though I became important for the community, to be there for the community. I was able to help some, and others felt as though I hurt them. As my father told me, if the parent is not concerned you must take the concern. I would take it to the parent first, and if the parent showed that they didn’t care, then the next time I would care. I would take it to the next step. My thoughts of being in the department were the needs of people. Not just black people, but people of all kinds.
Riddick: Chief Ridenhour, you have a unique perspective as your father was on the force for 15 years, but was there anything he shared with you? I know you were quite young at the time. If you could also let us know some of the reasons you decided to come on.
Patrick Ridenhour: The reality is I don’t have much of a recollection of my father as a police officer. By the time he retired he was a detective, so I don’t remember ever seeing him in a uniform, A lot of people felt that I followed in my father’s footsteps, and I guess technically that’s correct, but I don’t remember a lot about that. We are going to do things B.L. and A.L..
Patrick Ridenhour is now the Chief of Police in Stratford, Connecticut.
B.L. is before lawsuit, and A.L. is after lawsuit. I’m strictly A.L., but for me my experience was different. My mother who is here tonight is a retired schoolteacher and my father was a policeman and an investigator for the state for 20 years. I spent most of my childhood in the East End and for me it was a little bit different because almost every other house there was a police officer that lived there. No, they were not black police officers, but because they knew Moose, and worked with Moose, I had a good relationship not only with them, but also with their kids. I learned how to swim in some of their pools, going to cookouts and different events. It was a different vibe for me. I won’t spend ten or fifteen minutes talking about my reasons because your guys’ reasons are much better than mine. My reason is very simple. I liked watching Adam 12.
Booker: I like Law and Order.
Ridenhour: Just like the kids now who watch CSI think they want to be a police officer. I watched Adam 12 and I thought that I just wanted to be a police officer. I remember that something happened in my teenaged years out at the stadium. There was a young kid that was being manhandled by an officer and I was watching this whole thing. My father was down there with me and I remember him calling down to the police station saying nothing better happen to that kid, and it changed my perspective. I started seeing things a little bit differently. I realized that police officers aren’t always the good guys, but it strengthened my resolve to be a police officer because it made me realize that if you are not part of the solution, that you are part of the problem.
I remember when the opportunity came, it was Mother’s Day when I was about 19, we were out at the Heritage Inn and we took her out for a Mother’s Day Brunch. I looked at my father, we were in the parking lot, and I told him that I was going to go for the next test for the police department.
He said “Son, I can’t discourage you from it. It’s a good job.” My mother, I don’t think she was happy about it. I think she had different sights for me, but she didn’t stand in the way. I did well on the test, but the problem was I couldn’t be hired until I was 21. So, they actually skipped me on the list and came back to me. As things worked out, three days after my 21st birthday the academy started, and I guess you could say the rest is history. I don’t think my mother every got over it until I made lieutenant, and then I think she said maybe he made the right decision. It’s very simple. No big stories of struggle for me. I’m one of those people that if I have a goal in mind and if I see something I just go for it. Let the chips fall where they may and if one door closes then another one is going to open because at the end of the day I’m a winner. I don’t mean to sound arrogant or anything like that, but you have to go for your dreams and follow your own heart and your own mind.
Riddick: Well the proof is in the pudding. You are definitely a winner becoming a Chief. Going back to Mr. Booker and Mr. Beamon….Oh I’m sorry yes?
Woman in the audience: I was just wondering at the time you entered the police department did you feel any discrimination about race or did you feel hopeful and comfortable?
Booker: I’ll go on that. I had just started the night shift. It’s 11-7, and I was signed to work on the East Main Street and Cherry Street beat. There was an older officer, I know his name, but I’m not going to call him out, but he was an Italian officer. He said, “Kid, I want to talk to you.” I said, “Okay”. We went to the firehouse on East Main Street. He said he was going to tell me this only one time. He said “only out of respect for your father, he’s had a hard time on this job, he said I’m going to tell you one time. Number one, you must learn to work for yourself and by yourself. You are not liked on this job.”
I didn’t question when he said, “you are not liked on this job”. He said you will never hear that from me again, and the man walked on. I worked with him a number of times and he made me stay by myself. He didn’t want to know nothing. What I learned from that was to watch each and every officer and see who would respond in a negative or positive. To your face he was your friend in combat, because you were his safety net. You had his back. But behind his back you were nothing. You were zero.
I had one non-minority policeman tell me that if you weren’t in a uniform I wouldn’t even talk to you. We’ve been confronted with a lot of things. The Hispanic officer, Domingo Pietri was the first Hispanic officer. Domingo and I were working in the North Square together. I called him Mingo. I said, “Mingo, I’m going to tell you like a man told me, learn to work for yourself and by yourself. It worked for me and it’s going to work for you. Remember you had a hard time getting on the job.”
They used to say Hispanics were too short, too this, too that. I told him he had a hard time getting on the job, so you’re the first, and if you fail, there will be no more. If my father had failed, there would be no more blacks to follow. The door would close again.
I’ve had sergeants give me evaluations saying I was afraid to handle white people, and he’d never been with me when I handled them. All this was to keep me from making rank. It was to stop me from becoming a supervisor. Each one of us went through this at some point. Some officers it to our face. I had one sergeant tell me that there are two things he really despised, Italians, and of course, the N-word. He was a Irish, and I said fine. I just let it pass, but I had my fun with him, but I won’t go into it. I was always a person, as my mother would say, you don’t get mad, you get even. I had my own way of doing things, a lawful way of doing things. I always kept a number of torpedoes ready.
Riddick: Lt. Beamon, do you have answer to the question?
Beamon: The question of discrimination on the job? I think every minority officer that came on was discriminated against. Either covertly or overtly. When I first came on I worked different areas of the city and then all of a sudden I wound up working in the Square for 22 straight months. 11 different changes. 11 different shifts. 11 different partners. I said, before I was able to work the entire town, why am I just working in the North End. They said I was doing a great job. It didn’t add up to me. It wasn’t just me. As Cicero said, Spanish went through the same thing. It’s very difficult to do your job positively.
We knew what the criminal was going to do, but we didn’t know what the administration of the police department was going to do. When it was time for me to make driver on the motor patrol, the word was passed that they weren’t going to make me because I ran around with women. I don’t know where anybody got that idea, but that’s what they said to me. I just put the word out to certain individuals that if they didn’t make me a driver I was going to sue the city. I said there would be a crack in City Hall bigger than what was in the Liberty Bell. Two weeks later, they made me driver.
They had SWAT training and I went to Chief Inspector Mark, I’ll say who it was, and I said I would like to get on the SWAT Team. He said “oh no, you can’t get on the SWAT Team”. I said you have no minorities on the SWAT team. I was a driver. I was 35 years old. He said I was working in the North End and doing a great job. They offered me to become a radar operator. Well, I could write a lot of tickets because that’s all that happened. A certain Sergeant, that’s who ran the radar equipment, and I wrote the tickets. I said I know how to do more than write tickets.
As a baby Sam Beamon was rescued by Cicero Booker Sr., the first black police officer in the city.
Well, we had to bring in a representative from Custom Signals out of Pennsylvania and they taught me how to operate the radar. Not only did they teach me, I became a certified instructor in radar, which was more than what the sergeant had. So there were certain ways we had to circumvent what they were doing to us.
Until me here was no such thing as a black accident investigator. I had to laugh. I’d pull up on an accident and they would go talking to my white partner. I’d already investigated the accident mentally, and I said just bring me the information. I am the one investigating this accident. I am the first black investigator to have investigated a fatality, which was on Watertown Avenue, which was praised by the DMV because of what I had learned.
I became the first black to be the head of the Juvenile Division. I wasn’t certified. I had to go up to Buffalo to get the certification. I went to the Superintendent and requested to get certified. He gave it the okay. When it came time to go to the training, I went to the Superintendent and it appeared they had lost the paperwork. I learned real quickly to make a copy of everything and anything that you do. I had to learn the hard way, so 12 years of being a juvenile supervisor went down the drain because I’m not certified in anything. When I did retire, I went before the Board of Education and they did give me a certificate to say that I had made a difference. I had worked with the juvenile court, the school system, the parents and DCF. The board of education said you made a difference, and that was one of the biggest honors that I could have had on the police department.
Audience member: What really kept you going? All three of you. The inspiration.
Booker: I was the son of Addy Booker. What kept me going was the hope to be a part of change. What kept me going was to bring something positive to the table and stand by it. When I worked with a partner I’d tell him I don’t want him to lie for me, and I’m not going to lie for him. I said if they were excessive with someone, and they didn’t stop, that I would testify in court against them. I kept that principal. I had a lot of people afraid to work with me, and I had a lot of people that were happy to work with me. Those that didn’t want trouble were happy, and those that wanted trouble didn’t like to work with me.
Those were the ones I wanted -he ones that didn’t want me - because I learned the concept of working for yourself and by yourself. My wife used to ask me, aren’t you afraid? I said I carry a gun too, Hun, don’t worry about it. She used to ask me to have some fear because people that had some fear were more protective of themselves and others.
Riddick: What motivated you and kept you going?
Beamon: The job. Like I said when I first came on the police department, I was going to be Superintendent. I always worked toward that goal. The first goal was being a sergeant. I knew that I was going to make sergeant. I studied and worked in all aspects of the police department, but I wanted to advance myself. But when I made Lieutenant it totally blew my mind because I never dreamed I would obtain a level that high.
When I came on the only thing you had was black detectives and you had black patrolman. There were no supervisors. There was no middle management. It was like they had a glass ceiling. You are doing a good job, Boy, but you aren’t going to go any higher. We called it the struggle for equality. It was the struggle to be treated the same as everybody else. Are we at the lawsuit yet? I don’t want to push it, but that was a very important part of my time on the police department, and Cicero’s time on there where we were able to change a few things.
Riddick: After the Chief speaks.
Beamon: I’ll let Pat take it from here.
Ridenhour: Four things kept me going. My father’s bull headedness. My mother’s diplomacy, and these two gentlemen. There are no words to express how grateful I am for what they did for me. Having a door open when things didn’t seem right, or when I didn’t feel like I was getting the right advice or being set in the wrong direction. Having the ability to go to them and say this is what I heard, can you explain this to me a little bit more. They would put me in the right direction. They were there for me when it was time to come to promotional exams. I remember a lot of times going to see Sam. He was in the Youth Bureau. He was on his way out, on his way home with his jacket on, and I’d walk in and the jacket would come off and he would say, “come on kid”, and we would go back into the office. We would talk about things that were bothering me.. Something that I heard that I didn’t think was the right advice from a supervisor, we could talk about it.
It mentally prepared me for the job. Being able to go home and have my father there to do the same thing, or when I was working, my father was listening on the radio so by the time I got home he already knew what calls I had been on. He wanted to know how I handled this or that. He would say that somebody called him and told him this or that. His antenna was always up. Those are the things that kept me going and made me feel like I was going to make a difference, that I’m going to get seasoned and I’m going to be able to do great things.
So, it’s a combination of things. People always say that old adage it takes a village, well these men on the panel with me were part of that village. Then having my mother pat me on the back saying, “son it’s going to be all right.” She always had a different way of looking at things. My mother is very diplomatic. It was a great contrast to my father who would just run through the door, but what do you do when you run through the door. That’s where my mother would come in. I feel extremely blessed to have had the combination of their personalities, and extremely blessed to have these two gentlemen in my life.
Riddick: Although I am the moderator, I echo the same sentiments. Cicero and Sam have always been there for me, and I can honestly say there has never been a hateful word uttered from either of them - after all they have had to endure - so we could succeed. They never said anything like, “don’t say this to a white person.” Never, not once. They always said to deal with everybody the same way, and that if you want to succeed, you have to work hard, and never forget to reach back and help somebody else. Both of you have trail blazed for us. Now, Lieutenant if you want to get to the lawsuit please feel free.
Audience member: You mentioned having partners. Were there ever instances with partners where you weren’t sure that you were going to receive the back up that you should have received in that situation?
Booker: I’ve never gotten into a situation like that. I’ve had some tense moments and my partner was there all the time, and when they needed backup, back up was always available there at all times. The main factor was that when you’re on the job, their life is protected by you, and your life is protected by them. They knew that. They never broke that bond, but as far as being your friend, they weren’t your friend. I had people on the department that I grew up with right here on Bishop Street, and those guys were so different as adults. We played in the backyard as kids, but now that they were older and more indoctrinated into their cultural views, my dark skin made a difference with them. Only at work did it have a privilege that you were another police officer. You were in the blue line at that time, but when you were off duty, you were back in the black line.
Beamon: I experienced the same thing. The training a police officer gets, regardless of your color , is to be there for the other person. It’s very difficult to sit back and try to break this down. I’ve never had that problem of worrying about whether my partner was going to be there. As a matter of fact, I told one partner, if I wind up in the hospital there better be one of two people laying in the bed next to me. It better be the person that put me in the hospital, or you, or I’m coming looking for you. That was a lighter side of it, but I never had a problem on a call. Everyone had tense moments where there was a scare, but you had a job to do. That’s where the training all kicks in.
Audience member: How did the general community perceive you?
Booker: When the police are called and somebody needs to be taken care of, they don’t care who you are, as long as you took the weight off of them and acted on their behalf. If you had to have to mouth to mouth recitation between a person of non-color and a person of color, who cares at that moment? I’ve never had a problem with that. As far as the general community, when they call they wanted you. That’s what I felt. Sam wanted to get to the lawsuit.
In 1981, I had 22 years on the police department and wasn’t going nowhere. I had graduated college with honors so there was something wrong with that picture. My son, Cicero, he was coming up through high school and I asked him what he wanted to do, what college was he planning to go to.
He said, “Dad, I just plan to be out there and be a happy guy.”
I said, “you don’t want to go to school or anything?
He said, “what does school do for you? You graduated. I was there to see it, but nothing happened. You’re still doing the same thing you were doing. You got no promotion. You got nothing.”
It made a father have to tell a son that I had let someone control my life and keep a thumb on me, and keep me down. You don’t have to be that way. I got angry and went to my wife and said I’m going to do something, and I may get fired. I went to my father, and said no disrespect to you, but I may get fired from the Waterbury Police Department because I’m going to take on a mission to change some of this internal stuff.
He said, “well I didn’t tell you what to do when you got on, and you’ve been doing well. Do what you have to do, but do it in a manner that God’s in your heart.”
So 1981, I started studying what the city had to conform to. The guidelines. I studied all that stuff and learned that the city wasn’t quite truthful with some of it’s documentation. Once I collected those documents from EOC and 131 Causeway Avenue, Boston, Mass., and took a trip to Washington DC to pick up documents to learn what was going on. After I got the documents, I needed to know how to read them because everything was coded.
I went back to Boston and used the codebooks and the samples of what the pages meant. I started preparing and learned in order to get federal funding, the city was saying things that weren’t accurate. So with that I started studying things a little further. I picked up a book called “Sue Your Boss” and followed the book page-by-page. Then I went to the guys, because I was by myself. I told the guys what I was going to do and asked them if they wanted to be a part of it. I said whether you are a part of it or not, I’m going to do it with or without you.
We made a pact and worked hard as a group. After collecting all the data, we went to get an attorney and ACLU was the most interested in it, provided we didn’t want funds. The city was exposed to $25 million if we wanted to go for personal damages. We chose not to. We chose to change the process so that others could walk up the ladder.
The federal lawsuit read Cicero Booker Jr. versus the City of Waterbury.
The ACLU took our case. There was a high level of disparity even though the city claimed that they didn’t discriminate. The disparity lay in one area. We were patrolling first level. We got paid patrolman’s pay. Next level was sergeant we weren’t there, so we didn’t share in the sergeants’ pay all the way up the line. That was the disparity impact. We didn’t share in the funds, and it was tax dollars, federal funds that the people of color weren’t sharing in. We couldn’t get assignments. We had to fight and struggle. You had to get a horse. That’s what we called them, a horse. If you had a Clydsdale, that’s a big strong horse, and you were treated different because you had a big strong horse in the political world that could move it along.
We went to ACLU and filed the complaint, Cicero Booker, Jr. against the City of Waterbury. I was the sole signer of the document. We had to sit down and break everything down letter-by-letter of the changes we wanted. We wanted validated testing, we wanted assessment testing. We were able to get our young men exposed in other towns so they would learn how the assessment tests worked so they could become more diligent.
They despised me. They would give me the worst assignments they could give, but there wasn’t a bad assignment for me. They had to pay me for those 8 hours. They could assign me to the city dump and I would go and do my job at the city dump. Whatever they wanted and it was legal, I did it.
There had been big problems with the testing, if 70 was passing, we would get a 69. We were trying to make rank and they kept failing us. Once the courts started monitoring the tests things started to change. We became brainchildren. Sam was first. What we did was, we made a pact, whomever made sergeant out of our group, he’s the boss. We would never make it hard for him. When Sam was on the group; he was on track to be sergeant. They came to Sam and asked him to breakaway from the group. Sam said he wasn’t going to do it. There were other people that were told to break away from the group because of assignments, and they did, because they wanted the assignments. We understood and respected that, but Sam stood fast and didn’t break away from the group. Sam got promoted to Sergeant. They stopped two away from me. They had twenty-four made and I was the 26th and they didn’t want to promote me. So, they were going to change the number of sergeants from 30 to 24 by charter, so they wouldn’t have to promote me.
I started laughing because that’s our lawsuit. I wanted them to make those changes because to make those changes I would own this town. They would change the town from Waterbury to Bookerbury. They went back and looked at the lawsuit and what was happening and brought it back to not just me, but they promoted the whole six of us and we were happy.
That lawsuit is still alive today. They city tried to close it, but as long as I’m living they ain’t going to close it, because they’ll go back, and they’ll go back as quick as they can get back. I went to Vern and many of these guys after I retired and I asked if they see something that is going backwards, would tell me? If it was something they could work with, something they can live with, I wouldn’t do nothing because it wasn’t something I was exposed to. But if it was something that was going to set back their movement, I was at it. I’m still at it.
Vern gets made at me sometimes. We were at an event and the Mayor at the time was there. Vern and I were standing there and we knew Neil O’Leary was going to retire and the chief’s slot was opening. I told the Mayor in front of Vern that this was the man you should make the chief, and patted Vern on the back. I patted him on the back and said, “this is the man.”
Vern turned red and got mad. I stand fast for these young men and young women. All of them. I went to them and asked, “do you need me, do you want this, do you want that”? If they told me they wanted something I would go after it for them, because sometimes they needed a voice. In my day, politics was the voice. I was an Alderman so I was going to try see what I could do.
Beamon: I’ve been waiting to talk about this lawsuit. We played a couple of little games on people, especially in the City of Waterbury. There was a lot of discriminatory practices going on in schooling within the police department. I’d be working with the officer next to me and all of a sudden he disappears for a few weeks. He returns and I ask him what happened to you? Did you go on vacation or something? He says no, I went to burglary, robbery or narcotic investigation school. None of the blacks were getting these schools, so when it came time for testing for the promotion for sergeant that person next to me had an unfair advantage paid for by the city of Waterbury, by yours and my tax dollars.
When we went to court we filed against those discriminatory practices in the city and we prevailed. We didn’t ask for anything - the 25 million - we didn’t do that. We wanted a level playing field for everyone. This lawsuit has Cicero to thank for it, and Mike Gugilotti, Vernon Riddick and Neil O’Leary and everyone else that took that civil service test that was job related and accredited by the Federal Government owes their promotion to this man sitting to my right. It wasn’t just him, as he said the group came together and there were other individuals that had just come on the police department that we wouldn’t allow on the lawsuit because they were still provisional officers. They could have been fired. One individual had just made Detective. We said to him to stay out because they could bounce you back to patrolman because it wasn’t a civil service test. The individuals that did file suit were in positions that nobody could bother us and they had to deal with us. We stood up not only for the city of Waterbury, but also for the black community itself, because after that we wound up supervisors, middle management, and upper management. The black community was proud of us. It all came out of that lawsuit. We sat down in federal court and we really made monkeys out of the City down there.
Riddick: To clarify the lawsuit, there were no extra points for exams or anything like that? Essentially all you wanted was a fair and equal opportunity to compete, and however you came out, is how you came out. Am I correct in that assessment?
Beamon and Booker: Mmmm, right.
Booker: I had one superintendent at the time look at me in the eyes and say to me, “Cicero, don’t get smart. Stay like you are.” So you know then that you’re done. We were down at Federal Court and I was talking to the Judge and the supervisor was there. I told the Judge everything I had to tell him, and he was turning red. I turned to him and said, “I didn’t get smart. I stayed as I was.”
And the supervisor hated that. But you had to show that you were a man to stand on your own two feet with these issues. If you didn’t do that, you were just a zero as far as we were concerned. I’m thankful to all the men that were involved in the matter and I’m thankful that they were able to bring about the changes. There is a saying that when you are able to climb the ladder, if you fall, you fall past those that you were bringing up behind you. But we climbed the ladder, and we didn’t fall. When we stopped, those behind us kept going up the ladder, which is a great thing. I loved it when my father got to see a black man wearing striped inside the Waterbury Police Department. That was my father’s dream, and it was Sam Beamon.
I must tell you this story before we close, please. My father was walking his beat on Pearl Street and there was a house on Pearl Street that he smelled gas coming out of. You know like the gas stove leaking? He trailed the smell and broke into the house and carried out a woman. He went back in and pulled out a man, and when he got back outside the woman cried out that her baby was still in house. My father went back into the house and pulled out that baby. That baby was Sam Beamon. My father was proud to Sam in his stripes. That was like his son being made.
My father would say, “Son, whatever you young men are doing, keep doing it.” And again, he said, “keep God in your heart as you do it.”
We did this with no hate for our fellow officers, or the City of Waterbury, but out of our love for our community and love for righteousness. That’s what we did, and that’s what I’m still doing. I won’t stop. I’m Addy’s son. I can’t stop.
Ridenhour: Now you know why I am where I am, because of these two gentlemen - post lawsuit. It is the way they went about the lawsuit of not asking for anything special. They asked for equal opportunity, because of that I was exposed to training opportunities, assignments that I probably wouldn’t have gotten if that hadn’t happened. A quick story for me is from my father back in 1965. They were still appointing sergeants. They appointed him sergeant, so they said he was the first black sergeant, but low and behold they made it a provisional appointment and said, “oh no, you have to go through the testing process.”
Ridenhour and Riddick both said their careers would not have been as successful if not for the work of Booker and Beamon.
Unfortunately, he did not fare well and he did not get to keep those stripes, and it took more than 20 years before those stripes were regained by Sam. I wonder had he been exposed to the training opportunities and assignments that I was exposed to if he would have been able to keep those stripes and probably go further in his career. So, I am truly blessed for growing up in a time that I grew up in, having had these gentlemen in my life and career.
I’m the first African American in Waterbury to graduate from the FBI National Academy. Other assignments and training opportunities: serving as a division commander and obviously, going through the ranks in the Waterbury Police Department. It was all because they allowed me to be exposed to all different avenues in the department to get my education and training and do well on promotional exams. Sam and Cicero talk about standing on the backs of people like my father, or their fathers, but we stand on their backs, on their shoulders, and hopefully we have made a difference for the next generation to come.
Booker: Each one of these officers has been told you must prepare yourself, the education factors. Only you can do that, prepare yourself. We can open the door, but without being prepared, you may not be able to walk through it. If you look at their backgrounds, each one of them prepared themselves from the patrolman standing here to the Deputy to the Chief, they prepared themselves to move up the ranks. That’s on them. They all prepared themselves and I’m proud of that. I tell Vern all the time, I’m as proud of him as if he were my son. I told his father that I’m proud of your sons because they prepared themselves and they are carrying a baton. I was told when I was taking my father’s place that I have a big pair of shoes to fill. I said my father has nothing, I wear size 12, my shoes are already big. That’s what I used to say. Still they prepared themselves. For our young, prepare yourself for whatever it is you choose to do, reach for the skies, but prepare yourself.
Riddick: As we close, I wanted to echo the point, although this is Black History Month and we are celebrating the accomplishments of our black officers here, including myself, at no time were we taught separatism. This is a matter of pride in your community, pride in your culture and pride in what you do every day putting on a uniform. Bottom line, when you put the uniform on we are one. It is our job to protect the citizens of Waterbury and everybody coming through the City. I thank all of you for sacrificing your time to be here, and thank you folks for being here. I have to acknowledge my father, “what’s up?”. I have to say he was a fantastic role model. He raised three children here in the city of Waterbury. We lost our mother to a rare disease when she was 32 years old. At the time I thought she was young, but now as I turn 45 I realize that 32 was nothing but a baby, so I thank him from the bottom of my heart for setting the example for me to become the man that I currently am today. If there are no more questions, thank you for your time, and God Bless You.