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Researchers will examine gun violence in Bridgeport, with community input

Di-Zett Hamilton
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Bridgeport resident Di-Zett Hamilton (right) lives in one of the most dangerous parts of Bridgeport and is now collaborating with an effort designed to research solutions to gun violence.

Di-Zett Hamilton remembers having to lie to her young children when they first heard gunshots at the Trumbull Gardens public housing complex.

“I was telling false fables like ‘Oh, it's nothing, it's just a car backfiring,’ like my kids are young,” Hamilton said.

Frightened, Hamilton’s children began to pepper her with questions about those noises. Then she held drills for her children to get on the floor of their home to avoid getting hit by a stray bullet.

She soon started telling them the truth.

“We shouldn't have to; that's where we live. This is what we do,” she said.

She and her children haven’t been shot, but they live in one of the most dangerous parts of the city, where crime and poverty are rampant. She says police don’t make their presence known unless someone is shot.

But her neighborhood may contain a solution to gun violence.

A new effort is designed to research solutions to gun violence – by having neighbors like Hamilton work with researchers at Fairfield University and the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership.

The neighbors are represented by people like Hamilton, who is part of the neighbor relations staff at PT Partners, a community advocacy group made up of residents of the PT Barnum apartments.

The project, funded with a $1 million grant from the Tow Foundation, is expected to take three years to complete. Survey findings will be used for reports and action plans to be shared with the Bridgeport Police Department, schools and community organizers.

The surveys will ask residents of the PT Barnum Apartments, Charles F. Greene Homes and Trumbull Gardens what many have asked over the last decades: How can community gun violence be stopped, aside from stricter gun control?

Forming connections in the community is key, said Melissa Quan, director of the Center for Social Impact at Fairfield University.

She said her group first met with activists working on gun violence prevention and the university focused on engaging with the community early on based on those relationships.

But she says the residents will be deeply engaged with creating the surveys as well.

“One of the things that we'll be doing is putting together trainings on different aspects of research, everything from design, to how do you create a survey,” Quan said. “How do you implement a survey? How do you analyze results?”

But getting people to trust researchers, graduates and undergraduates from Fairfield University may be challenging due to inevitable cultural and social differences, Hamilton said. Research from Yale Law School showed community engagement is crucial to addressing gun violence in communities of color. They pointed to violence prevention groups based in the same neighborhoods they live as a way to stop shootings from happening.

One of those groups is the Street Safe Team from RYASP. They were supposed to attend a conference announcing the project on Tuesday but could not make it. Instead, members comforted the family of a young man shot and killed at his home in the city, according to Marc Donald, president and CEO of RYASAP. His home is located in the Hollow section, considered one of the city's most dangerous.

Hamilton says she’s comforted people who have lost loved ones due to gun violence. She’s also had to talk people down from seeking revenge.

“That's why we're working with Fairfield U, and RYASAP in order to make this better,” she said.

Note: The Tow Foundation is a funder of Connecticut Public. This story has been updated to clarify that RYASAP's Street Safe team did not attend the announcement in order to comfort a grieving family.