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Racial tensions still present in Waterbury after summer of protests, equality advocates say

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — It was a summer of racial tensions across the globe, and the Brass City was no exception, from clashes between protesters and counter-protesters to community mistrust with law enforcement.

Advocates say the biggest challenge is acknowledging racism in the first place.

Racism is a subject many people in Waterbury aren’t quick to discuss, and some feel it doesn’t impact them at all. Meanwhile, the police department is at the forefront of a host of challenges this year.

RELATED: New Haven’s summer spike in violence and what city leaders are doing about it

So, what set it off? George Floyd‘s last breath at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

“It was only a matter of time before the movement landed in Waterbury,” activist and Waterbury resident Athena Wagner said.

Floyd’s death sparked protests nationwide and in the streets of downtown Waterbury.

Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said, “We don’t condone what happened to George Floyd. We certainly stand against police brutality. We certainly stand against racism.”

Wagner, however, says, “Waterbury is a racist city.”

She is a former Cheshire corrections officer turned equality advocate.

“I’m not here to make people comfortable in dealing with the issue of racism.”

Wagner said she had experienced racism first-hand in the Brass City. So, she took to social media to push city leaders to declare racism as a public health emergency. The Board of Alders opted instead to study the issue.

“Elected officials and our so-called leadership calling for it, commenting on it, speaking to it, addressing it. Case in point, the silence speaks for itself,” Wagner said.

RELATED: ‘We’re playing ping pong with the polling places’: Waterbury state rep. alleges voter suppression

State Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr. worked on a historic police reform bill passed in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“We had a very difficult spring and summer here,” Reyes said.

He’s concerned racism could be a factor in November’s election. In fact, Reyes believes the polling location in his heavily Latino district has changed five times over the years. Now it’s miles away and no longer walkable.

“When you have poor turnout in communities of color and distressed municipalities, and you keep changing the polling places, keep changing the game. It’s not fair. It’s not sitting well with me,” Reyes said.

Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo is trying to do his part to bridge the racial gap and have hard conversations with all sectors of the community.

Chief Spagnolo said, “We have them talk to our police officers in re-certification training so our police officers can get an understanding of what their cultures are about, what their needs are, what their expectations are from law enforcement.”

One thing everyone we spoke to seems to agree on: regardless of the outcome of the November presidential election, racial tensions aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

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