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New Haven residents living with 'fear of violence,' DuBois-Walton says
New Haven Register - 6/10/2021
Jun. 10—NEW HAVEN — Everyone should be able to move about the city without the fear of violence, mayoral hopeful Karen DuBois-Walton said.
A retired assistant police chief, an antiviolence activist and the head of street outreach workers joined DuBois-Walton as she continued her focus on the uptick in violence in the city.
There have been 14 homicides and 49 non-fatal shootings in the city so far this year, putting it on track to exceed the 20 killings in all of 2020.
Speaking outside Lincoln Bassett School, she said she hears complaints in every neighborhood about the increasing level of violence.
DuBois-Walton, the mother of two young men, said she worries about their safety and that "should not be."
"We should all be able to move about our city freely, able to go about our lives ... without fear of violence ... and that is not what is happening right now," she said.
Currently on leave from her job as executive director of Elm City Communities, the city's housing authority, DuBois-Walton said the city "has seen a rise in gun violence before and we know what has been effective."
She said it is frustrating to her "to see leadership not doing what we know needs to happen or being slow to do what we know needs to happen."
Throughout her talk, she did not mention Mayor Justin Elicker by name. They are running, along with Maycee Torres, for the Democratic Town Committee endorsement and a win in the September party primary.
DuBois-Walton said the city "needs to refocus policing and we know we need to invest in our street outreach workers, giving them not just additional bodies but also give them the tools that are needed to be able to offer something that actually gives people a way out."
Elicker recently announced updates to address the issue. The city has brought back biking and walking beats; added jurisdiction to the shooting task force; will add another street outreach worker, bringing the total to 5, where they serve 60 youths at highest risk; and add 4 more youth navigators.
Former Assistant Police Chief Douglas McDonald, who retired in 2003, said he worked with DuBois-Walton at the Yale Child Study Center and later on community policing in the 1990s.
In 2003, with Police Chief Melvin Wearing and programs such as Project Longevity and Project Safe Neighborhoods, which continue today, homicides dropped to single digits, he said.
He credited the success to the "honest collaboration" with professionals in the judicial area, as well as police officers and "the community who had the skills of observation. We knew who the characters were."
McDonald said he and other retired officers see a "vacuum in the leadership in the city."
He said the city's problem is "community involvement, police involvement and police accountability."
McDonald said the department needs an audit of programs to see what works and also a review of deployment.
"I hate to see any political disruption, but community safety is more important than political aspirations," McDonald said.
Rebecca Goddard, who retired as a police lieutenant from the New Haven Police Department after 20 years of service in 2015, said she was impressed with DuBois-Walton's safety platform.
A former district manager in Newhallville, she said police can't solve all the problems.
"It takes a true partnership. ... It takes the residents of New Haven who really want to do something," Goddard said. She said she is 100 percent behind community-based policing, but it is more than walking and biking beats.
Chaz Carmon, president of Ice the Beef, which works with youths to prevent violence, said, "It is a sad day in our city because tomorrow, once again, we are going to be burying another young person."
"I wish I had a magic wand to make people forgive each other or make people love each other, but it is not just that easy," he said.
Carmon pointed to two groups of young children on swingsets at the school enjoying themselves. He said last week in the Hill, about 30 kids were part of a drill team practicing in the park when a shooting took place.
"This got to change. This has to stop. The more we come together, bringing the cohesion, keep having events ... start bringing back the village ... that is the way we start to make the change happen," he said.
He urged the 25 people listening to get involved.
"We have to start to not police our neighborhood, but to love the people in our neighborhood. We have to make sure that we don't turn a blind eye to things happening on our streets," Carmon said.
Leonard Jahad, executive director of the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program, said he and his staff work with the "riskiest youth" in Greater New Haven, such as gang members and shooters, as well as people who are victims of violence.
Jahad said New Haven is a community that is "traumatized" by every gunshot, every nonfatal shooting and every homicide.
He said they try to get ahead of the crime by mediating.
Jahad said those who are shooting are not going to put their guns down "if they feel vulnerable in your community."
"What we have to do ultimately is just change the culture about using gun violence. So when there is a beef, you don't have to grab a gun and use a gun. There are things that we can do. We can mediate. We can intervene," Jahad said.
He said the average age of people involved in the violence is 31.
"It is not the kids doing it. It is the reentry population. It is those people who are not involved in any kind of convention — church, a club, a job. Those people who are disenfranchised," he said.
He said in the past his group took recidivism from 60 percent to zero with the right programs and it can be done again.
Jahad said every year there is a spike in crime when it gets warm. He said the bad actors didn't come out last year during the pandemic, but the interactions have now intensified.
With the courts opening up again, it should get better, he said.
He said when those coming out of prison couldn't get services, "they went right back to what they knew."
Jahad said unfortunately the culture is "to retaliate, not to mediate. Let the police retaliate." He said the opening of the reentry center should help.
Asked why he is supporting DuBois-Walton, he said he is is interested in new initiatives and continuing to change the gun culture.
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