The Rev. Dr. Herron Keyon Gaston, associate director of admissions at Yale Divinity School, is senior pastor of Summerfield United Methodist Church on the East Side. He also serves on Bridgeport’s Civil Service Commission. On Thursday he called a news conference to discuss a broad range of issues to help curtail gun violence.
The oxygen was taken out of the room when City Councilman Ernie Newton called for a controversial “stop and frisk” policy. In the commentary that follows Gaston declares “Councilman Newton’s views are reckless, wanton, and reprehensible and does not reflect the values of the people of Bridgeport.” For background on Gaston see here.
Yesterday, I called a press conference at Summerfield United Methodist Church in Bridgeport, where I serve as the senior pastor, to discuss the rampant gun violence in our community. I purposely invited members of the community, along with governmental leaders to partake in what I envisioned to be a productive and substantive gathering, to not only discuss a better way forward for Bridgeport, but to give birth to a citizens review committee that will meet quarterly to put forward a vision for Bridgeport that would address a wide array of pressing issues for our community, including but not limited to community based policing, (where the police works hand and glove with the community), the reinvestment in recreational programs for our youth, creating apprenticeship opportunities, summer internships, mentoring, counseling, and mental health services as a few measures to help address some of the systemic and institutional challenges faced in our community.
With respect to gun violence, I proposed adopting common-sense legislation that will close the gun loopholes to make it harder to get a gun. I challenged Mayor Ganim and the Police Department to invest in smart gun technology, and to push manufactures to make greater investments in procuring the safety of the citizens of this great state and the residents of Bridgeport. I challenged Chief Perez to more effectively enforce the buy-back program, where police officers will incentive residents to turn in illegal guns, without the fear of prosecution, and their failure to do so, if caught, will result in a full measure of justice.
Instead of these common-sense and progressive proposals being presented by the media, the media chose to be distracted by Councilman Ernie Newton’s outlandish proposal of “Stop and Frisk,” and his quest to codify an ordinance that would allow law enforcement officers to stop, frisk, and detain our residents, and to search civilians on the street for weapons and other contraband.
This race-based and discriminatory practice proved to be unconstitutional in New York and resulted in gross negligence by the New York Police Department. I fundamentally believe that this is a step in the wrong direction, and I am vehemently opposed to any variation of such unjust discriminatory practices enacted upon the residents of Bridgeport. In fact, politics is the process by which we choose our elected officials and hold them accountable to the constituents they represent. Councilman Newton represents the 139th district in Bridgeport, which is a district where I live and where my church community resides, I am flabbergasted and appalled and reeling with frustration about Councilman Newton’s proposal, and I cannot sit idly by with bated breath and startled eyes and allow this debacle of a policy initiative that lacks sophistication to move forward. Councilman Newton has spoken. He has clearly demonstrated to voters that he does not understand the detrimental impact of these policies on real people and is guilelessly out of touch with reality and has not paid close attention to the annals of history and the fraught relationship between law enforcement and the African American community. The measure that Councilman Newton is calling for would set us back decades and will be an Achilles hill for any progress won on this front. Councilman Newton’s views are reckless, wanton, and reprehensible and do not reflect the values of the people of Bridgeport. I am not suggesting that we don’t do anything on this issue–to not do anything would be maleficent and gravely irresponsible, but “stop and frisk” is not a meaningful solution to the problem. It would only exacerbate it.
I would like to send a strong message that the people of Bridgeport will not be bamboozled, hoodwinked, or browbeaten into submission to accept such policy. I stand ready to challenge any politician in the general election who would advance the cause of this piece of legislation. Bridgeport deserves a leader who will not back down to political oligarchs and plutocrats, and those who attempt to undermine the public’s best interest. Bridgeport deserves a leader who will speak intelligently about the issues, fight for the rights of all citizens, and who does not kowtow to the political machine at the detriment of the masses. I admire the resilience of the residents and stand in bold solidarity with so many who will be detrimentally impacted by Councilman Newton’s proposal. I am calling for us to come together as a community to forge a more sensible way forward.
Yours in the struggle for justice,
The Rev. Dr. Herron Keyon Gaston, Senior Pastor, Summerfield United Methodist Church