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In The Wake Of Shootings, Pastors & Police Press For Trust In Bridgeport

Bridgeport Police Chief AJ Perez listens as George Mintz, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP chapter, speaks about community policing. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal talks with Bridgeport leaders and relations between police officers and communities of color. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Bridgeport Police Chief AJ Perez, center, speaks at a discussion on relations between police and communities of color. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — As state Rep. Charles Stallworth sees it, Bridgeport residents can’t look to the police to solve the city’s gun violence and crime problems.

“It’s not a one-person fix,” the pastor of East End Baptist Tabernacle Church said Friday. “It’s going to take the whole community.”

Stallworth echoed the sentiments of many at a Friday morning meeting with police, community and church leaders as well as U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to discuss trust between police and communities of color.

The meeting, held at Stallworth's church, was scheduled in the wake of the sniper attack on police officers in Dallas and the deaths of Minnesota resident Philando Castile and Louisiana resident Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers.

“Leadership really has to come at the local level,” Blumenthal told the group.

While calling for stronger controls against gun violence across the nation, he said local communities need to continue the dialogue, encouraging the community policing philosophy to instill trust.

“I think this could be a real model for other communities in Connecticut, maybe around the country,” he said.

Police Chief AJ Perez and Captain Mark Straubel said they are encouraging everyone from top police leaders to new recruits to get out in the community, meeting with residents in peaceful times, not just at crime scenes.

On Wednesday, officers staged a educational mock routine traffic stop and they plan similar events throughout the city. Officers hope to legitimize the police force and foster procedural justice, Straubel said.

“We’ve got to be transparent, totally transparent,” he said.

Perez and George Mintz, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, meet monthly to discuss police activities and training. Mintz invited others at the table to join them, especially after the recent shootings.

“Within the community, there’s resentment,” he said.

But William McCullough, pastor of Russell Temple Church, said the discussions need to dig deeper to “tougher conversations” regarding racism.

“The Band-Aids we’re trying to put on things are not the answer,” he said.

Involvement is key to trust, said Kenneth Moales Jr., pastor of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, who suggested strengthening the city’s Police Athletic League.

“That changed my life,” he said. “You’re not going to hate the police officer that coached you.”

The conversation is likely to continue July 20, when Connecticut Against Violence hosts a community relations forum at the Margaret Morton Government Center, 999 Broad Street. The 6 p.m. forum is open to the public.

The organization has held 27 youth violence prevention events in the last year, said Executive Director Kingsley Osei.

Dexter Upshaw Jr., pastor of New Vision International Church, said he hopes to spread a “narrative of hope.”

“My heart as a pastor is to see this city flourish,” he said.

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