Following a roundtable discussion led by U.S. senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 on the issue of street violence in New Haven, a group of the city’s activists have banded together to help turn words into legislative action.
On Feb. 7, Murphy and Blumenthal gathered at the Elk’s Lodge on Webster St. to hear from local residents about ongoing efforts to curb gang activity that continues to plague the Elm City. Also in attendance were New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman and New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95. Five days later, the newly formed Coalition of Anti-Violence Stakeholders held a press conference to announce how it plans to help push legislation to tighten gun control and improve public safety.
“We want to be very clear that this is about community and about organizations coming together to say that we’re tired of the violence,” said William Mathis, one of the coalition’s members. “We were very tired of people coming and talking, but nothing seems to change. If you’re serious about doing x, y and z, we’ve listed some serious items that could happen.”
The coalition published a “Call to Action” document before the press conference, describing these items and laying out a vision for the group’s future. Gov. Dannel Malloy, Mayor Toni Harp, state legislators and Esserman are among the high-level public officers that were given specific recommendations.
The document calls upon these officials to leverage their political connections to facilitate a number of measures the group believes will successfully reduce gun violence in the city and state. In an appeal to those on the state level, for instance, the group suggests using influence within the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to intensify efforts to eliminate firearm suppliers, rather than cracking down on gun owners.
“We would gather information and data and input from community — including organizations, individuals, etc., all across our community — and that information would be compiled to inform and to help draft legislation,” Mathis said.
He added that the scope of the coalition’s mission extends beyond Connecticut, seeking to affect federal policy on relevant issues. In order to gain support for its grander objectives, the group has called upon others like Sandy Hook Promise to gain legitimacy in the gun control realm.
This month’s roundtable discussion was a prime opportunity for the coalition to announce its presence, Mathis said, because the senators have long fought for reformed firearm policy, but these policies have still not come to full fruition.
“Gun violence continues to take a devastating, deadly toll in New Haven and around Connecticut. It affects all communities across the country, but the Congress still has failed to give us common sense, sensible measures to help stop it,” Blumenthal wrote in an email to the News.
A press release from Murphy’s office lists the specific causes supported by both senators, such as a ban on high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons and universal background checks for those purchasing firearms.
Another group Mathis said the coalition seeks to work closely with is the NHPD. Department spokesman David Hartman said that while police certainly appreciate the sentiment of similar anti-violence organizations, law enforcement ultimately falls in the hands of the officers on the ground.
“These are good people with good intentions, and our operation as a police department is entirely violence reduction,” Hartman said. “But they can be more like academic think tanks that find alternative ways to address the problem of violence.”
In the section of the group’s document that calls on city leaders, the coalition highlights the importance of merging the community and the municipalities in an effort to accomplish its goals.
Specifically, it recommends the creation of a joint task force that works with New Haven’s police, fire and education departments to ensure that their leadership fairly represents the demographics of the city and that officials are properly informed about cultural trends and occurrences that have an impact on public safety.
Since the press conference, the coalition has held further meetings to discuss upcoming plans. Mathis estimated that 20 people attended the most recent one.
He insisted, however, that the movement was meant to gather the entire community around a noble cause rather than advance individual agendas. Some of those involved are also part of other organizations like the New Haven Black Social Workers Association and local youth centers. A reverend by trade, Mathis is also the head of Project Longevity, a project seeking to address crime through social network analysis and police involvement in the community.
“We try to stay away from names, personalities and organizations because this is absolutely about our community,” Mathis said. “We’re really trying to avoid any distractions to the real issue that has to be dealt with, that we believe is best dealt with by the leadership of African-American people.”
New Haven saw 67 shootings in 2013.