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Civic leaders, members of the clergy, elected officials and police brass came together at city hall Monday morning for a far-ranging discussion on race relations, gun control and public safety.

“Dignity and respect are what matter more than anything, even when you have to arrest someone,” New Haven police Chief Dean Esserman told the group, which was crowded around a table in the mayor’s conference room. “To many of us, a [police] uniform brings pride, but to many it brings pain.”
The deaths last week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men killed at the hands of police officers, followed by the killing of five police officers in Dallas, sparked grief, outrage and frustration.

“What concerns me is the perception of some that maybe our government is not necessarily seeking our welfare,” said the Rev. Abraham Hernandez, Northeast director of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “Is the government on our side? Maybe there are some in law enforcement that are not necessarily there to serve the public. That concerns folks.”

In the aftermath of the killings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas last week, there have been marches, protests and vigils around the nation. Monday’s roundtable, hosted by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, signified an attempt to move the conversation to potential solutions that would address the underlying factors contributing to the tragedies.

Rabbi Eli Greer, a community activist and member of the Community and Police Relations Task Force, said he is hoping elected officials on the national level will be compelled to act.

“Here we go again,” Greer said with an air of weary resignation. “Everyone is going to get together and have a bevy of meetings and hearings … [But] there’s no progress.”

Participants discussed a number of solutions that Congress could embrace, including passing strong gun control laws and developing programs that encourage black and Hispanic residents of urban areas to become police officers.

“I have a problem with people coming [from outside] our community to police our community,” said the Rev. James Newman, president of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association. “That is one of the biggest problems we have.”

Newman said New Haven has done a better job than many cities, thanks largely to the embrace, by Esserman and Harp, of community policing strategies. “There are some programs here that can go nationally,” Newman said.

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