Among the many disputes bedeviling New London - political infighting following a change in its form of government; bad blood over the handling of plans to sell a portion of Riverside Park; recriminations from a shake-up in the police department; howls over skyrocketing taxes - few have aroused more passion or cast the city in less favorable light than the decision to fire a black firefighter recruit three days before he was to graduate from the state fire academy.
Angry protesters, accusing the city of racism, have been waving signs in front of television cameras at town hall type meetings in the city and at a press conference in the State Capitol. New London is being made to look like Little Rock in the 1950s.
A state investigation released this week determined that "best practices and proper procedures in accordance with rules and regulations were not followed" at the state fire academy in the case of Alfred Mayo, the first black firefighter to be hired by New London since 1978 and the only black recruit in his academy class.
"When you add race into the consideration, it becomes more than troublesome that the only black recruit was pulled from the academy," the report added.
It also documented apparent discrepancies in how recruits were treated at the academy, including how a white male in Mr. Mayo's class was caught cheating on a test but allowed to "walk with his class" at graduation and still hired by his hometown fire department.
Though the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection probe stopped short of ordering New London to rehire Mr. Mayo, it left no doubt that this would be the best course of action.
This newspaper agrees, and strongly urges Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Fire Chief Ronald Samul Sr. to offer Mr. Mayo his job back.
The investigation minimized or dismissed accusations that led to Mr. Mayo's discharge, including claims that he had been videotaped "giving the finger" to a camera while marching in formation and "continued observed undesirable behaviors." Investigators concluded it was wrong for Mayo to make the gesture - other recruits, jokingly, apparently did the same thing without being punished - but added there was no evidence of additional "undesirable behaviors."
The report also noted Mr. Mayo scored 90 percent on his certification exam grade but questioned why he was evaluated at below-average or poor about behavior and effort. It determined that Mr. Mayo received two deficiency reports for minor infractions while half of the class of 48 received more.
Throughout the long travail Mr. Mayo has been a passionate and persuasive advocate for his cause, emotionally testifying during press conferences, NAACP-sponsored meetings and before the state legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
We believe in his sincerity and are confident he would be an asset to the department.
State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, who called for the investigation, properly expressed outrage this week over the findings.
"This is not about Alfred Mayo. This is about your kid, this is my kid. We educate our children to do everything they want to do in life, and then they go and pursue that and somebody just crushes them."
An offer to rehire Mr. Mayo would be politically prudent and possibly spare the city expensive, extensive litigation - but most important, it would be the right thing to do.