The Buck Stops Here

last judgment

The Last Judgment – Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

On February 13th, 2000 about 120 souls marched to the beat of a dirge played by a sole bagpiper as a mock funeral procession was conducted to observe the “death” of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London, Connecticut. It had been about a month since the New London City Council voted to demolish the neighborhood to enhance the planned development of Pfizer Corporation’s Global Research facility. The residents had recently learned that they would have to take the offers the state was offering or face eminent domain proceedings.

As we march down Smith Street, passing by the Pasqualini home, I saw 95 year-old Walter Pasqualini, gazing out from his bedroom window with a grimaced look on his face. Later we would discover that Walter was crying as he realized that the threats he had heard about losing his home was indeed true. His family was worried that this reality would be devastating to his health and risky for his wife, Cesarina, who was legally blind. Walter would die within the next three months, his family insisting that the city of New London and the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) was responsible for his death. I remember standing at the grave site with Walter’s daughter, Shirley Goss, as she kept on repeating the words, “they killed him.”

The following Monday night the city council chambers were filled with irate protesters who felt the city council members should get an earful for their treatment of the residents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. When my name was called to speak before the council, I asked a simple, but serious question. “Why are the family members of Walter Pasqualini saying the city is responsible for Walter’s death?” That question was rooted in the crucial question of what responsibility does one assume when your actions result in harm to another person. Apparently I hit a nerve because one counselor got up from his chair and left the chamber, refusing to hear the rest of my comments. At the end of my address I reminded the counselors and some members of the NLDC that were present, that like the medical profession, the first rule of politics is to do no harm. Surprisingly, they didn’t ever admit to having the least bit of responsibility for the Walter’s ill health or his death.

For the next five years there would be more sad stories about the ill-treatment received by the remaining residents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. Those stories are a matter of public record. During that period, at least three other residents would die, mostly from stress-related factors. Other would develop critical health conditions due to the anxiety and stress placed on them by the harassment and ill-treatment they received at the hands of NLDC and the city. From the commencement of the implementation of the development, many of us who supported the residents had appealed to the state to insure the safety and well-being of the residents, and to be reasonable and just in their offerings for the resident’s properties. Out of perhaps, two dozen written appeals, only two responses were ever returned. The Rowland Administration seemed to turn a blind eye to the injustice and malicious behavior its agent, the NLDC was perpetrating on the residents in the neighborhood. They were satisfied that everything was being done “legally.” No matter how much they hid behind the “legal” excuse, they couldn’t possibly defend their immoral neglect of protecting some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens.

Sadly, to this day there are but a few of those officials who have admitted that what happened in Fort Trumbull was wrong. Perhaps the others actually believe they didn’t do anything wrong. I would call them morally depraved. In the end, when you apply the standard of the Golden Rule to how the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan was implemented, it would suggest that there are a number of city, state, and NLDC officials that will reap fear and harsh treatment. I still hope that for those who claim to be Christians, they will realize the harm they did to simple citizens, who are guilty only of wanting to live the American Dream on their own terms, and without the threat of a tyrannical government stealing that dream for the benefit of their grand schemes.

Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here.” In Fort Trumbull, no one wants to admit to the damage done to real people. No one wants to take responsibility. They keep on passing the buck. For some it is ancient history, never to be revisited. The problem is that God judges how we treat others and there is no statute of limitation. We reap what we sow. I only hope that those involved in bringing harm and disgrace to the former residents of Fort Trumbull will have the moral courage to just say they’re sorry. It would go a long way to healing this city.

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