Vaibhav Sharma, Photography Editor

Last Wednesday, potential mayoral candidate Karen DuBois-Walton’89 released a 10-minute video and press release calling for New Haven to invest $10 million toward police accountability and gun violence reduction programs.

In the video, DuBois-Walton cited a rise in community violence in the city and national discussion surrounding the issue of police brutality as justifications for this investment. In March, DuBois-Walton — who currently serves as the president of Elm City Communities, New Haven’s housing authority — launched an exploratory committee for the New Haven mayoral race. As of earlier this month, she has raised nearly $70,000.

In her speech last week, DuBois-Walton called for the city to redirect money from American Rescue Act funds to organizations like Black Lives Matter New Haven, Ice The Beef, CT Violence Intervention Program and the Citywide Youth Coalition, among others. The city is currently scheduled to receive $94.77 million in recovery funds. Mayor Justin Elicker will announce his official recommendations regarding the allocation of the American Rescue Plan funds on Tuesday afternoon.

“Fundamentally, the gun violence in our community and the centurieslong over-policing of our community come from the same place: historic under-investment,” DuBois-Walton said in her video. “This underinvestment manifests as lack of access to opportunity, inadequate educational resources, poor access to jobs … limited workforce development and limited neighborhood community economic development.”

In her video speech, DuBois-Walton proposed a series of funding proposals she hopes will help address the disparity in opportunities in the city. She called for public funding for community initiatives and investment in “basic economic needs … like housing, jobs, workforce development and entrepreneurial opportunities.” She noted in her press release that a universal basic income can be a tool to do this.

DuBois-Walton also embraced policing reforms similar to those currently receiving attention from state legislators. She has added her support to proposals made by New Haven state Sen. Gary Winfield, in collaboration with other racial justice and anti-police brutality organizations in the state. Those include recommendations that the NHPD revise its rules of engagement and use of force, implement anti-racism training and foster “community involvement that builds the relationship between the community and the police.”

CT Violence Intervention Program Executive Director Leonard Jahad and Citywide Youth Coalition Executive Director Addys Castillo both noted the importance of community-rooted change and investment as a way of addressing the broader issue of community violence.

Jahad, who formerly worked in law enforcement, noted that he “absolutely” agrees with DuBois-Walton’s idea to invest in the community. As a former probation officer and current football coach, he said that he has seen the impact of officials interacting with the communities they work in on a personal level to gain the trust and respect of residents. During his time as coach, he said, residents have come to him for help after a crime occurred, given up weapons and turned themselves in for crimes.

His organization, listed as one that DuBois-Walton asks funds to be redirected toward, works within the community in order to address the issues at the root of community violence. One approach his organization uses, dubbed “Cure Violence,” treats community violence “like a virus” in the community.

“You assess the symptoms of it, you treat it and you stop the spread of it,” Jahad said during a phone interview with the News. “That’s how we treat violence, also. You assess the factors that contribute to violence, you treat it and then you contain it where it doesn’t flow into other areas.”

The CT Violence Intervention Program also employs the “Ceasefire Model,” in which “critical messengers” interact with members of the community. “Critical messengers” are individuals who have experienced or been involved in violence in the community but now work to dissuade community members from turning to crime. Jahad noted that “because they were in that life, they can talk to people who are also perpetrators and also victims of violence.” He added that because of their recognition of and in the community, they can have a stronger impact on anti-violence efforts.

For Castillo, however, rhetoric promoting increased funding for “police accountability” programs strikes her as a potentially slippery slope considering its vagueness. She questioned what the reform of policing truly means, noting that policies like this funnel more money into the police department without specifying the exact allocation of those funds.

Dubois-Walton’s proposal comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the Board of Education voted to keep a limited number of school resource officers — uniformed members of the New Haven Police Department meant to “prevent criminal activity on school campuses by engaging in conflict resolution,” according to the NHPD.

Castillo also noted that communities with less policing invest more strongly in services and resources for young people. She added that she is “glad” that DuBois-Walton is “thinking out of the box.”

“Any opportunity there is for us to work together to reimagine how we can better maintain safety and community, I’m all for,” Castillo said. “But as long as that community is rooted in investing more in the necessary resources and community that don’t revolve around the police department.”

There were 20 homicides in the Elm City in 2020, the highest number since 2013.

Ángela Pérez |

Ángela Pérez is City Editor of the YDN. She was a former beat reporter, covering City Hall and Women's Volleyball. She was a former editor and writer for the WKND desk. She is from Puerto Rico and plans to major in Architecture.