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Ferguson-related discussion with Norwalk Police hits home

"There are letters to the editor all the time and some public speakers in this community who say things, I don’t think because they’re evil people, they have no idea of what they are saying," Sally Grose said at the Town Hall held Thursday in City H
“There are letters to the editor all the time and some public speakers in this community who say things, I don’t think because they’re evil people, they have no idea of what they are saying,” Sally Grose said at the Town Hall held Thursday in City Hall.

Updated 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29, with editor’s note and link at end.

NORWALK, Conn. – Fears for Norwalk youth – accentuated by the violence in Ferguson, Mo. – led Thursday to lessons in de-escalating police situations and talk of different, more positive, ways to teach children.

“The issue was ‘how can we make sure something like this doesn’t happen in Norwalk?” said Norwalk Branch NAACP treasurer Brenda Tyson, after the town hall event featuring a discussion with Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik and other leaders in City Hall. “We said, ‘OK, this is time we can come together, and put our heads together.’”

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Norwalk Branch NAACP treasurer Brenda Tyson talks to city leaders Thursday in City Hall.

Tyson said the NAACP “threw this together” last Friday. There were about 50 people gathered in the Common Council chambers, which was surprising and gratifying, she said.

Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland led the town hall, sharing a few stories of problematic experiences with Norwalk Police.

Crosland said he was pulled over as he pulled into a Shell gas station last fall and there were “canine units and stuff all over the place.” A problem with his car insurance was quickly resolved, but the officer had spotted his gun permit in his wallet and asked him if he had a firearm with him. He refused to pull it out and give to the officer.

“The last thing I want to do is introduce a weapon into a police stop,” Crosland said. “… I didn’t want to pick it up and give it to him because then, you know, it’s a black man with weapon, and then the Shell gas station camera is going to capture me pulling my weapon out. But they don’t get audio, they don’t get the part where they said, ‘Hand it to me.’”

It was a judgment call, he said.

“But this is my point,” Crosland said. “The officer came back later, he was upset with me, not because of the weapon, not because I didn’t turn. He said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were a lawyer?’ I said, ‘How did you know I was a lawyer?’ He said, ‘Well, several officers have called me on my cell phone and said, that’s Crosland.’ So, I didn’t really think I had to tell him I was a lawyer to be treated appropriately. But he had a lot of bravado going on and he was yelling at me because I didn’t tell him I was a lawyer. But if that’s the most, they’re going to yell at me that night, I can accept that.”

There need to be discussions about bravado and intimidation, he said. Back in the day, Norwalk Police were friendlier, he said.

Kulhawik said there would be informational seminars down the road. Some people think it’s their right to struggle when a police officer attempts to arrest them because they feel they did nothing wrong, he said.

“You have no right to resist arrest,” Kulhawik said. “Whether the police are right or wrong, the law is you have to go along with the arrest and then complain about it later. Let the courts work. Complain to me and then we’ll follow it up. But if you struggle and fight, the police are going to make that arrest, they are going to raise that level of force. The law allows them to take the force to a level higher than what is being encountered by them.”

Get the officer’s name, he said.

“If they are a hothead my advice is you don’t fight, you cooperate,” Kulhawik said. “If the officer is already at that level that you feel is inappropriate the situation will quickly get out of control. That’s not right or wrong, it’s just a fact … They may be (wrong) but the bottom line is you don’t want to escalate it because it’s just going to get worse. In the end the officer is going to win. That is what they are trained to do. They are going to make the arrest.”

It was suggested that Mike Brown, the 18-year-old man who was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer, had his hands up and was de-escalating the situation.

Kulhawik said he didn’t know what happened there, but if the officer was wrong he should be arrested.

Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland
Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland leads Thursday’s town hall in City Hall.

“You can’t de-escalate a homicide,” Crosland said.

He’s been getting complaints from the community, Crosland said. “It is kind of intimidating. Some of the cops are young, they are coming on with a lot of bravado,” he said.

But there was much positive talk. Police officers are human beings who might be having a bad day, it was said. State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) said “the complainers are out there” but 60 percent of the community wants to do something positive.

“It’s a matter of having the political will to say that taxpayers in the city of Norwalk, ‘we’ve got some great things going on but race does matter,’” Morris said. “… In order to go to the next level as a city, maybe the conversation isn’t around reexamining the problems so much but examining what are the solutions that we know exist? And how do we collectively come together with some comprehensive planning and get some of these things going and empower these youth who we know can be the best messengers for getting these things done?”

Crosland said people are afraid to bring it up.

“I am concerned that we are going to get the feedback, ‘here we go again, here is the black conversation’ or ‘here is the Hispanic conversation,’” Crosland said.

“Statistics show people of color are looked at differently,” Morris said. “We have been stopped in inaction for so long that there are people who want to do the positive things, OK? Who want to say, ‘Listen, I am not in denial.’ There are police officers who are going to say, ‘I know my brother or sister in blue is not doing the proper thing.’”

Morris, the Norwalk Public Schools Human Relations Officer, said black male children are suspended from school at a higher rate than whites but Connecticut is doing something about it. Educators are switching from the “Gotcha Game” to role modeling good behaviors.

The suspensions at West Rocks Middle School and Ponus Ridge Middle School had been at 600 to 800 a year but are now down to 100, he said. “The numbers were cut in half, by 50 percent, year after year after year,” he said.

“As a community, black kids don’t have somebody patting them on the back and telling them you’ve gone and done something well,” he said.

Mayor Harry Rilling said people from different backgrounds see things differently. There’s been a pattern in Norwalk of discussions that make everyone involved feel better, then the ball gets dropped, he said.

“There’s a huge disconnect between people of color and people who are not of color, Caucasians and whatever, but we need to not walk away from this and say, ‘OK, we’ve done our duty and that’s it.’ I said that before, I’ll say it again. If we don’t follow up on this then shame on us,” Rilling said.

A member of the audience spoke up toward the end of the two-hour meeting to offer an idea that Bryson later seized upon.

Sally Grose, a retired school teacher, said she had been instructing children about the Middle Passage years ago when she decided to try to mimic the experience for them, to try to illustrate the suffering of Africans who had been kidnapped and were on their way to America to become slaves.

She locked them in closets and tied them to chairs in “a very crude representation,” which they never forgot, she said.

Later, the faculty took a group approach to teaching the kids about the Holocaust, she said.

“We decided that on the first day we announced that certain people with certain names were not going to get higher than a C. The kids said, ‘That’s not fair.’ It wasn’t but we were making a point. Those kids never forgot it,” she said. “What I am saying is, I would love to participate in a program where we try to stand in each other’s shoes. When I hear what people who look like me say, ‘We don’t have a race problem in this country,’ I know there is something wrong.”

“It’s times like this that creativity comes out,” Bryson said. “It’s times like this that brings new suggestions and new ideas out. That’s why we’re going to have this meeting and that’s why we’re going to have more.”

“We came out to honor and respect the folks in Ferguson,” Bryson said. “We wanted to be proactive and we were. We came up with some really good stuff. The dialogue was open. My next thing, I’d really like to see the youth here. These things really should be filled with the youth.”

“I definitely think this is helpful,” said Krystle Moore, after the meeting.

She came because she had learned over social media about what was going on in Ferguson, about rubber bullets and tear gas. “It sounds like Third World country-ish and I just wanted to make sure that my community doesn’t turn into that,” she said.

Her 7-year-old son had a “horrible” experience in kindergarten, she said, but did not elaborate.

“I would think it great to have workshops for public servants like police officers and teachers, those two entities engage with black people a lot, and helping to decriminalize Norwalk kid behavior, especially young males because I think a lot of the issue is perception. … My big fear my child, not out of ill intentions, maybe some little misconceptions in the back of the brain, like black boys are more geared toward aggression when it’s really kind of normal behavior. I would like to see workshops geared toward decriminalizing normal behavior of black males.”

“This meeting was necessary because we do need to talk,” Mary Israel said. “Because you may think things like that would never happen in your town but then it happens. What do you do? I mean, the youth, they matter because they’re the future.”

Editor’s note: While researching some statistics on the topic, I came across this article, which we would like to share with our readers.

Comments

22 responses to “Ferguson-related discussion with Norwalk Police hits home”

  1. potaxpayer

    This comment was disallowed because of racist content.

  2. RU4REEL

    Potaxpayer proves racism is alive and well in Norwalk, other commenters on this site are similar in their views and comments, fortunately those with similar insensitive views appear to be few and far between (I hope). Ms. Grose mentioned letters sent and I agree, those people are evil and many times they are the bosses in charge,using subordinates and suttle racism to keep minorities in their presumed place. We as a community need to weed these people out of our community, NOW. Enough talk, we all have a good idea as to who these people are, so lets get going on this to help bring our community together. Talk is cheap, how about some action!

  3. Bill

    How about listen to authority figures, be them cops, teachers, parents, and quit acting like you know everything at 16 years of age. That will solve a lot of the youth race issues.

  4. EveT

    Shocking about the officer yelling at Crosland because he didn’t tell him he’s a lawyer. What difference does that make? Aren’t all citizens supposed to be treated equally regardless of their occupation?

  5. LWitherspoon

    Did Mr. Crosland bring the incident at the Shell station to the Police Chief’s attention?

  6. One and Done

    So the mayor has time to do this, but nothing to say about the kids who were shooting up North Main Street at 11 a.m. in broad daylight the other week. I guess it doesn’t matter because no one was killed this time. Maybe it would take a stray bullet flying down and taking someone out bringing their family to the Maritime for some action here?
    .
    Was this the same Shell station where a poor clerk was shot and killed face down by robbers a few years ago? Should the police stop asking if people are brining weapons onto that property? Could the counselor have respectfully asked the police officer to retrieve the gun himself for safety?

  7. Ms Ruby McPherson

    I wonder why this session wasn’t more publicized, flyers or something so more of South Norwalk sorry Norwalk people a in knowledge of the discussion.

  8. Anna Duleep, City Sheriff

    @LWitherspoon: I believe Attorney Crosland mentioned that he had reviewed the situation later with Chief Kulhawik and/or Mayor Rilling; Darnell ultimately called it a judgment call.
    @MsRuby: This will be the first of a series of quarterly meetings. People expressed a desire to increase public outreach so we could get more young people, teachers, and others who have valuable input to attend. There is still much to discuss and last night was just one step.

  9. potaxpayer

    @ru4real, you don’t even know what i said for these people at non to say what i said is racist, is just typical not letting the FACTS be known by the socalled free press. i said facts if they were considered racist well i guess the truth hurts and we are not allowed to say the truth in america anymore and i will never read non again.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @potaxpayer

      Thank you. ‘Bye now!

  10. EastNorwalkChick

    I like Sally Grose’s approach, this type of “walking in another’s shoes” role playing really hits home with kids. It should be taught in our schools today, it may change how these kids perceive others when they become adults themselves.
    *
    Too bad we can’t have similar seminars for adults…then maybe they too would learn what it is like to be singled out, looked down at and thought as “different”, it may make this world a better place if we all had more empathy for one another.

  11. LWitherspoon

    @EastNorwalkChick
    .
    Well said.

  12. Scott

    Communities need to look inward to change how they are perceived outward. Prejudice based on stereotypes are based on some truths. I spent the day working in the vicinity of Ryan park and watched what I firmly believe to be several drug transactions happening in broad daylight. The individuals were all people of color. The people that live in this community should not accept it as the norm. When they do they should be surprised how their community is judged as whole how ever unfair that may be.

  13. Pibermanfmc

    Norwalk is well known as a City that encourages tolerance with a superb police force. As with other communities encouraging tolerance is an ongoing effort. All the more reason to be concerned when certain public officials publicly claim they are being subject to discrimination, no evidence us presented and everyone looks the other way at our collective embarrassment. Being selective in how we view intolerance moves us in the wrong direction. We’re still waiting for Mr Crosland to produce the “evidence” behind his demand to fiscuss “the issue” with the BOE Chair when no evidence of existence of any discrimination “issue” has yet been presented. We best achieve tolerance when everyone is held to the same standard of behavior. That includes public officials.

  14. EastNorwalkChick

    Scott, statistics show that drug use is the same for whites as it is for blacks. It’s just that a black person is more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than a white person is.
    *
    Go down to Taylor Farm parking lot on Cainfield, across from Shady Beach, between 5:00PM and 7:30PM weeknights if you want to see a different type drug deal. What you will see will blow your theory out of the water…everyone of these deals are made by young white males/females, dressed nicely and driving their parents middleclass SUV or midsize sedan. They park, wait for their dealer, when they arrive, (who BTW is also a young nicely dressed white kid driving their parents car), then they all go over to Shady Beach and within 10 minutes they are back in their respective cars and gone. The drug bags and hollowed out cigars left in the parking lot by them is a tell tale sign that they didn’t go over to Shady to take in the views.
    *
    So if we use your thought processes, we then could say that all young nicely dressed middleclass white kids who drive their parents car who park at Taylor Farm parking lot should then be considered drug addicts and/or dealers.
    *
    The thing is these kids are much more blatant about it, they know that they won’t be caught, they know that if they are, not much more than a slap on the wrist is what they will receive. Why, because they are young white kids, the cops don’t see them as the bad guys like they would a young black person. They see them as a kid making a bad choice in life, thus handled differently than a young black kid would be. Because just like you, the majority of the police have the same prejudices based on a stereotype of who and who doesn’t use/deals drugs.
    *
    Prejudices based on stereotypes are just that, prejudices based on stereotypes, not based on fact.

  15. Scott

    If I had witnessed what you say happens I wouldn’t tolerate it in my neighborhood. I’ve lived in the same house in the East Norwalk section of Norwalk (because we’re all NORWALKERS) for 44 of my 45 years of life on the edge of the Mill Pond and have chased away people who thought it was a good place to smoke weed. I was suggesting that by ignoring it in your backyard and allowing it to be acceptable behavior you help allow these stereotypes to be formed. And it doesn’t matter if it is a black or white or affluent or poor community. My daughter was a police explorer in Wilton for six years and captain of the post for I think three and she has made me well aware of the rampant drug problem on that affluent community and we’re talking hard drugs. They due arrest white kids and they do get more than a slap on the wrist.

  16. Piberman

    Mr Crosland said he carries a pistol. Who is he afraid of ? Is Norwalk dangerous ?

  17. Scott

    It’s his right under the second amendment and not yours or mine to question.

  18. Oldtimer

    Back in the day when Mayor Rilling was a rookie police officer there were a substantial number of minority officers, all officers were required to be Norwalk residents, and the relations between the police officers and the communities they served were better than they are now, partly because cops were neighbors. A lot of the younger officers now never lived in Norwalk and never had minority friends where they grew up. They are seen more as part of an occupying military force than friends and neighbors and that makes it difficult for the cops and the communities they serve. Cops were also the first responders in medical emergencies and that helped a lot in the relations with the community. Cops in those days could generally settle disputes and even make arrests without pointing guns at people. Nobody in his right mind ever pointed a gun at or fought with a cop. Challenging an officer was always a losing, frequently painful, proposition, and everybody knew it.

  19. Pibermanfmc

    True enough Old Timer. But in those old days our police officers didn’t face the proliferation of weapons, especially automatic rifles, pistols and machine guns now prevalent in Amercan cities. Nor the prevalence of drugs in the community. Policing is much more difficult now.

  20. Joanne Romano

    There’s a strong message and one that people need to understand. We all need to take responsibility for our own actions and we all need to learn tolerance for our fellow man. I don’t care what color you are or where you came from or what past history existed before your time, those who lived through slavery, those who lived through the depression, those who died for a cause they believed in, paved the way and afforded each and every person the ability to seek a better life and not dwell on the past but to look to the future and all they endured to allow what we have today!!! The problem here is we keep profiling, we keep lumping everyone into categories, we close our minds to the underlying problems and we look at people as if we are better than them, this is not just in race matters, this is in matters of everyday living, it’s a shame that anyone is profiled for their color race or sexual preferences… Believe me, I’m not so stupid as to believe there are no bad people in this world but guess what? Bad people come in all colors and races and ethnic backgrounds. Why not take responsibility for our own actions? We all bleed the same color folks an no matter how great we think we are or how bad we think another is in the end when that last shovel is turned we all end up just the same. Why not try making the time we have on this earth a better one, one we can be proud to leave our children, grandchildren and future generations when our time comes? Sorry for the rant but people just don’t get it. We can preach all we want but until we start living what we preach nothing will change.

  21. Masie

    Old timer, I agree with you. And now they’re getting a surplus military vehicle.

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