Roughly 200 New Haven residents gathered downtown at The Criterion Theater Thursday morning for a discussion about race relations in America and issues of discrimination against black males.
Headed by WTNH Channel 8 News anchor Keith Kountz, the panel included members of the New Haven Police Department, New Haven Public Schools, local spiritual leaders and other prominent figures of New Haven’s African-American community. Following the panel discussion, attendees participated in a special screening of Ava DuVernay’s recently released historical drama “Selma,” which tells the story of the 1965 voting rights marches that were pivotal to the Civil Rights Movement.
Following a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — a song written by James Weldon Johnson that is often considered the “Black American National Anthem” — by local resident Maxine Hargrove, Kountz opened with a discussion of recent events related to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, such as the Eric Garner verdict and the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Black lives have never mattered in America. What we can do about it is learn about our own history,” said Malcolm Welfare, youth leadership coordinator for NHPS. “There have always been white men and women who have worked against that.”
Pastor Anthony Bennett of Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport was also on the panel. Bennett, who had traveled to Ferguson with other community leaders during the unrest, added that an understanding of the systemic racial history of America needs to be more widespread.
“The problem is that white Americans over history have made this system the way it is,” Bennett said. “None of us question, ‘Why were whites so insecure that they had to create this system in the first place?’”
In addition to responding to questions from moderators, attendees also contributed to the town hall-style discussion with concerns regarding New Haven’s black community.
New Haven resident Ernestine Pagan questioned how invested New Haven police officers are in the welfare of the community outside of parole hours.
“How many cops actually live in the city of New Haven? How many are actually dealing with the city?” Pagan asked the panel, eliciting applause from the crowd. “What do you do when you take that uniform off?”
Lieutenant Anthony McFadden of the NHPD said that while his community involvement comes from his role as a coach of a local basketball team, he is also proud of the city’s many youth programs.
Gregory Foster, another New Haven resident, acknowledged certain shortcomings of the NHPD but said there also needs to be an effort within the black community to reduce crime.
“There are drugs, there are raids, there’s prostitution. [The NHPD is] just understaffed. But what we need is to build together as a community,” Foster said.
The event, which was hosted by Glen Worthy, principal of the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center, was celebrated as part of Black History Month.