Connecticut Cops in a Santeria Panic

A Connecticut cop spread old-timey false hate about a religion at an arraignment for a man who stole human bones.

02.05.16 10:55 PM ET

A Bridgeport, Connecticut, police captain committed a blood libel against Santeria practitioners after arresting a man who allegedly stole human bones for religious practice.

Felix Delgado, 40, is accused of stealing human remains from a family mausoleum in Worcester, Massachusetts. Police say they encountered an altar bloody with animal sacrifice at his home while investigating drug allegations, and that Delgado identified himself as a Santeria priest. They then discovered an outstanding Massachusetts warrant for his arrest, on charges of unlawful disinterment.

But police Captain Armando Perez, a self-appointed Santeria expert, took the opportunity to claim that Delgado practices a religion “similar to voodoo, but worse.”

He elaborated that as a child in Cuba, he remembered being told that “there were people, you know, santeros, that would go around the country and try to steal children, you know, for human sacrifice.”

In other words: Practitioners of this religion you don’t understand are out to get your children, Perez believes. Other outlets quote Perez saying that Delgado practiced the “dark arts” and that neighbors feared that speaking out would get them cursed.

These are the same charges levied against some Jews in an effort to frame them throughout history. In one of the most famous incidents just a century ago, in 1913, Kyiv Jew Menahem Mendel Beilis was accused of murdering a Christian child to use his blood in a religious ritual.

The charges, needless to say, were based on prejudice and misunderstanding, not fact.

Likewise, Delgado’s son, Alex Martinez, told ABC 13 that people visited his dad just to “get readings and stuff.”

A Bridgeport Police spokesman at first denied that Perez had accused Santeria practitioners of child sacrifice. “I was in there for the interview, and I did not hear that said at all,” spokesman Michael Giannotti said.

But a Fox61 video shows Perez saying just that. Giannotti did not respond to a follow-up request for comment. Perez did not respond to a query sent to his LinkedIn account.

Delgado’s charges may be linked to the case of Amador Medina, another Connecticut man who was extradited to Massachusetts to face arraignment for unlawful disinterment of a body. At the time of Medina’s arrest, experts told The Daily Beast that the use of human remains is uncommon in Santeria, but may be part of other oft-misunderstood Afro-Cuban traditions like Palo Monte. Adherents might incorporate aspects of both traditions in their practice.

Many paleros in America obtain the bones they use through medical specimen retailers, experts told The Daily Beast, though they would ideally like to know the history of the decedent. The bones are combined with other elements in rituals to create a being that can protect the practitioner from harm.

“It looks grisly, it sounds a little bit grisly, but the practice is oriented towards healing,” said University of Chicago anthropologist Stephan Palmié.