In my youth, there was a heralded phrase of “Now Is the Time,” which spoke to the immediate need to take socio-political action in the changing times of the sixties. Here we are in a time that seems more like the 1920’s America. There is a heightened sense of polarization between the police and communities of color. The media reported in 2016 a number of controversial police shootings and interactions between men and women of color across the land. We also saw horrific incidents of police officers being targeted to be killed solely on the basis that they were police officers.
Project Longevity New Haven has been engaging in a robust campaign of community outreach with the New Haven Police Department, ConnCat, and others to create a space for dialogue on the topics of community policing, Project Longevity methodology, and racial reconciliation between police and communities of color. In January in collaboration with ConnCat, we hosted a “cookie caper”, where community members and New Haven Police Officers were brought together on a Saturday morning to bake cookies together. Those cookies were later served to all that attended a panel discussion and dialogue that followed. It was a rousing success, with police officials having publicly apologized to the community for past practices that unintentionally victimized and alienated them. This event established a foundation for building new relationships between police and community establishing a beachhead for further discussion.
In February, Project Longevity New Haven hosted a “Solidarity Dinner” at the Christian Love Center Church located in the West River district. Here again, police and community members worked to prepare a light meal that was served during a presentation of our methodology and community policing. The intent was to educate and engage the community in how to become active participants in our process. As well, as how to conduct community building to create ownership in the community policing process. This event was to enable the continuance of building new relationships, and resetting the relationships between police and community by being able to openly hold an honest dialogue about community policing.
In March, Project Longevity New Haven hosted a “Solidarity Talk” in collaboration with the Urban League of Southern Connecticut at their office located at 458 Grand Avenue. We will strive to continue to build off the synergy of past events to push the envelope in open communication between the police and communities that they serve. Never before in the history of law enforcement and communities of color had such deep interaction been pursued and sought after. For both the police and communities of color this is a chance to create a new narrative of positive engagement. One that has the power to change the perspectives of how we view one another in the future. In these times of heightened racial tensions between the police and communities of color, we get a chance to engage one another so that future injustice and controversy can be averted.
We the New Haven community that includes the police and residents of every district have an opportunity to write a new narrative. A narrative that recognizes past systemic and historical mistakes by law enforcement entities. A new chance to accept their apologies and prepare to move forward building bridges of communications, cooperation, and building community together. We have to recognize that it takes all residents, community stakeholders, and the police to engage and build strong, resilient communities. I truly hope that all that read these words are inspired that social change is possible, and know that it will take all of us to make it possible. Clearly, the times are ripe for such collaborative efforts and the people’s sentiment echo that they too are ready. A new breed of leadership is emerging in law enforcement today seizing upon the opportunity to restore the police to our communities of color. “Now, truly is the Time.” Let us make this happen, come out and support our dialogues, and be a part of change.
-Stacy R. Spell