It seems like a day doesn’t pass without another incident in which either a black man or a police officer has been shot.
The most recent of these incidents came on Sunday when authorities said a decorated ex-U.S. Marine sergeant killed three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, some two weeks after police there shot dead a black man, sparking nationwide protests including one shattered by the massacre of five Dallas policeman.
The latest shooting incident ended Sunday when the suspect, dressed in black and armed with a rifle, was shot dead in a gunfight with police.
The shooting incidents across the country brought together Bridgeport community leaders, police and politicians last week to a forum, hosted by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. The forum was held at the East End Tabernacle Church on Central Avenue in Bridgeport.
Blumenthal said he felt it was “reprehensible that Congress has failed to act’’ to toughen gun laws in the wake of the recent spate of shootings.
Most who spoke at the forum said that Bridgeport has done more than other cities to try and foster a better relationship between the city’s police and the community it serves.
Bridgeport Police Chief Armando “AJ” Perez, said he has been holding regular meetings with the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, the most recent of which was last week. He said the purpose of those meetings is “try and engage the community.’’
“Our sole mission,’’ said Perez, “is to serve and protect the good people of Bridgeport.’’
The city’s top cop added, though, he understands it is the police department’s responsibility “to be transparent in our action. We must be part of the solution to these problems.’’
Police Captain Mark Straubel, another panelist, said the “350 men and women of the Bridgeport police department rely on the community to help us police.”
“We tell people why we stop them,’’ Straubel said. “We treat people in a manner that is fair. We think we do policing better in Bridgeport, as good as anyone in the nation.’’
George Mintz, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, said it is important, too, that the community not lay all the problems with race relations on the police.
“We want to come to the table with an open mind,’’ Mintz said. “We need to be as much a part of making sure our community is safe as the police department.’’
Kingsley Osei, founder and executive director of Connecticut Against Violence, agreed Mintz.
“We’ve been telling our youth that the police are not your enemy,’’ Osei said. He added that his group has held 27 different youth violence prevention assemblies this year alone, in an effort “to increase the trust’’ between the community and police.
But not everybody at the forum was so positive.
Pastor William McCullough of the Russell Temple Church in Bridgeport was blunt with his fellow panelists.
“There is a deeper, underlying problem in terms of racism and white elitism happening in America,’’ McCullough said.
Referring to community meetings, he added: “These little band-aids are not the answer. We need to have hard, tough conversations about what is happening out there. We need to get guns and drugs off of our streets.’’
State Rep. Charlie Stallworth, D-Bridgeport, said it is important that minorities and cops engage.
“I’m a big, black male,’’ Stallworth said. “I need to be in conversation with the police and they need to be in conversation with me.’’