Leaders of some of New Haven’s black churches say they are proud of last weekend’s protests over the death of George Floyd.
“I am thankful for the protesters for raising their voices,” said Rev. Steven Cousin, pastor of Bethel AME Church.
And they say they want those events to stay that way. The Greater New Haven Clergy Association gathered Tuesday morning to share a warning message for those who may look for ways to take advantage of peaceful protests.
“We definitely don’t want those individuals to come and pimp the pain of our people right now, our young generation, those that are hurting over what we’ve seen with George Floyd,” said Pastor John Lewis of Christ Chapel New Testament Church.
Law enforcement experts say riots and looting following peaceful protests are longstanding concerns.
“There’s always been a suspicion that anarchists would highjack these local protest movements, that would in fact highjack a Black Lives Matter protest,” said Kalfani Ture, Ph.D. Ture is a former police officer and currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University.
He says the goal is to create chaos for law enforcement.
“How do you know who’s a member of a hate group and who’s a member of the local community who’s been protesting?”
Clergy members say they’ve been working with local police over the last 10 years to build a relationship with the black community.
“We worked on policies, with the New Haven Police Department, we worked on hiring practices,” said Rev. Dr. Boise Kimber of First Calvary Baptist Church.
That’s one of the reasons why the Greater New Haven Clergy Association gathered Tuesday morning to say the protests over George Floyd’s death need to stay peaceful.
“We’re not angry at our police department, we still have more work to do,” said Kimber.
“Our relationships that we built with the police department, are they good? They’re better than they used to be and we’re getting better,” said Pastor John Lewis of Christ Chapel New Testament Church.
Community leaders say they met with New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes last week after Floyd’s death. They say the chief made a commitment.
“In that meeting, he said he was going to make changes in his department,” said Barbara Fair of Stop Solitary Connecticut. “He said he’s been deeply moved, not only himself but other officers have been deeply moved by what they saw on that video.”
Officers renewed their oath in public the next day, a sign for Fair that the chief was taking the right steps.
“I’m willing to give him a chance,” said Fair.
New Haven residents also say they’ve seen changes in police relations and local officers shouldn’t be the target of violence.
“Our police are not killing our black men here in New Haven,” Deshima Moye of Newhallville.
She added that the peaceful protests are important in sending a message about systemic racism, and the officers behind Floyd’s death need to be held accountable.
“Protesting is good, that’s OK to protest, but I think we should protest in peace, I think we should come together more,” said Moye, who says destroying New Haven would be counterproductive to police improvements.
“Burning down buildings, that’s not going to make anything better,” said Moye.
Chief Reyes says he’s ready to be held accountable in continuing the work of building relationships.
“They will see a renewed commitment from the police department to make sure we help this community get through a trying time, and prevent this from happening again,” said Reyes.