Over the past couple of weeks, I have been following the story of Jayson Negron of Bridgeport, Connecticut who was killed at the hands of police. I have heard conflicting media reports as to what transpired as fifteen-year-old Jayson Negron was made to drown in a pool of his own blood. As a concerned pastor in the Bridgeport community, our community demand answers into this investigation. While I am fully aware that this investigation is being handled by an outside agency, the wheels of justice must turn more expediently. The family of Mr. Negron and the community deserves a consistent, honest, and transparent response from our governmental leaders.
All too often I have witnessed up close-- or have watched from a distance, the public lynching of black and brown men and women at the hands of police. Time and time again, black and brown individuals are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion before there is an actual court proceeding. In other words, black and brown folks are guilty until proven innocent—and even when they are cleared of alleged criminal misconduct, they are still viewed with an overwhelming dose of suspicion by our society. This bitter reality is the lived experience of most black and brown people in America. And this form of systemic oppression and racial subjectivity must be boldly challenged by all who claim to have a moral conscience, and who stands on the side of justice for all people.
Many times over, we have observed the brutal mistreatment of black and brown men and women by police with little to no consequences for the officer. It does not matter whether an officer is innocent or guilty, the way the system is set up, there is a strong probability that the officer will not be prosecuted or convicted, especially if the alleged victim is a person of color.
Time and again in our society one’s skin color is perceived as an ontological threat to the established social order, and therefore, one is subject to public assassination and lynching at any time. We live in a nation that is weak-willed in addressing the use of force by police officers patrolling our cities. A police officer’s fear often is enough exculpatory evidence to recuse one from culpability regardless of the level of fear. Seemingly, any level of fear is justifiable grounds for execution. Our judicial system has set precedence in affirming and appraising the value of a police officer’s life above an ordinary citizen.
Communities of color are pushing for more police accountability and transparency. In no way am I presupposing a verdict regarding the facts of this case as that is yet to be determined by our judicial system. But, we cannot wait to respond to this horrific misfortune. For it is always the right time to do what is right and just.
As a pastor and community activist residing in the City of Bridgeport, I am calling on you to hold a public community forum to proactively address this matter, as well as the (sometimes unjustifiable) use of force with respect to the police department in relationship to the minority community.
Secondly, I am calling on you to require police officers in our city to be armed with body cameras and subject to ongoing de-escalation training as well as mounting dash cameras in every police cruiser.
Thirdly, I am calling on you to help restore the public trust by making the police department more accountable to the residents of Bridgeport. Hence, our City is in dire need of an effective community-based policing model that would work directly with residents to identify potential challenges before they erupt.
Lastly, our city needs a diverse police department that mirrors the demographics of our community. For many years, we have hired police officers who does not have a real sense of the community to which they serve, and who come from suburban areas around the State with minimal training on how to police in a predominately urban context. Many of these officers patrol the community as if they are going into combat zone.
Now is the time to put aside politics and to put the interest of our residents at the forefront. Community leaders refuse to sit idle as governmental leaders calls for calm as our black and brown young men and women are being slaughtered and lynched in the streets. We should all be outraged when a life is lost regardless to the nature of the situation. We must work to turn our communities from cesspools of violence into an oasis of peace and tranquility. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Yours in the interest of Justice,
The Rev. Herron Keyon Gaston