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Keep police-community conversation going

Every encounter between police and a member of a minority group that ends tragically happens in a single community, whether it be Louisville or Baltimore or Minneapolis — or in a small city, such as most of those in Connecticut. One police department at a time, one community of residents, one chance to interact without anyone getting hurt or killed.

Peaceable contact at other times between the two groups cannot hurt and might well help by introducing individual police officers and individual residents to one another. At the very least, a police-community gathering may decrease the dehumanizing effect of anonymity. At best, it may defuse a future loaded situation or even forestall one.

For those reasons, The Day is covering the efforts in Norwich to bring people and police together with an article that will appear Sunday in the newspaper and on www.theday.com. The Norwich Police Department has been conducting a monthly series of "Community Chats" and the one being held  Saturday Sept. 26 will be outdoors so more people can attend safely and with social distancing. Saturday's chat will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Spaulding Pond Beach area of Mohegan Park. Participants are invited to make a social occasion of it, bringing their own picnic food, chairs or blankets, and spreading out. There is no charge and it is open to all, with city police officers in attendance and welcoming get-to-meet-you conversations.

The event is moving outdoors in response to a request for more people to be able to participate while complying with social distancing rules. Norwich's monthly Saturday morning open forums have been held indoors at the Norwich Community Development Corp.’s Foundry 66 facility since June.

The past week has seen yet another upsurge in protests, this time following the decision of a Kentucky grand jury to hand down charges against only one former detective in connection with the shooting death of Breonna Taylor; she died in March in her home of multiple gunshot wounds during a so-called "no-knock warrant" entry by police. Taylor has been one of the icons of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer.

No charges were levied against the two officers whose shots killed her after her boyfriend opened fire. During protests of the grand jury ruling Wednesday night, two other Louisville officers suffered gunshot wounds but survived.

Both peaceful protests and episodes of street violence surged nationally with the suffocation death of George Floyd May 25 in Minneapolis. A former Minneapolis officer has been charged with murder and other officers with serious but lesser crimes.

Norwich police began their community forums in the wake of protests and rallies after Floyd's death. Since he died — an agonizing, slow death seen by people all over the country on video captured at the scene — The Day's archives have filled with articles and photographs about social and racial justice events in Preston, Ledyard, Stonington, Old Lyme, East Lyme and Waterford, as well as the region's larger, most diverse communities — Groton, Norwich, New London. Grief and outrage have crossed social and racial lines, as have voices speaking up for police officers in their dangerous jobs.

Connecticut's legislature debated police accountability reforms at a special session in July, adopting provisions that further limit justifiable circumstances for deadly use of force; increase civilian oversight of police; create a new inspector general position for cases involving use of force; and allow civil lawsuits against individual officers for "willful" violation of a person's constitutional rights. Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill into law soon afterward.

Nothing so simple as a picnic in a park on a mellow September day can reform the injustice, but it is like day and night compared to the lethal confrontations suffered by Black people and the reciprocal attacks on police. 

The ongoing pandemic has isolated people within their own community. A gathering such as the one planned for Norwich should be a welcome respite and a portal for building police-community relationships that might just someday save a life.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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