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Thursday, June 4 News

Fairfield rally focuses on racism issue in town

FAIRFIELD — Whether it was a valid misunderstanding or an example of race-related targeting by police, the Hanson family is using an incident involving their son as a rallying point to bring light to the issue of racism in Fairfield.

About 150 people came to Sherman Green Saturday afternoon for an awareness event featuring several speakers who shared their feelings about — and experiences relating to — racism in Fairfield.

On April 27 during Fairfield University’s “Clam Jam” event, student and Fairfield resident Naquan Oliver, 20, an African-American man, was allegedly accosted by police on his own family’s property near the beach.

Oliver’s mother, Amanda Hanson, said that as happens each year, there was a veritable parade of drunken white male students yelling, spitting and urinating on her lawn throughout the event, none of whom were approached by any police. But when her son, who had also been drinking, came home, police allegedly accosted him and pushed him up against a fence.

“It was definitely very disturbing,” Oliver said.

Yet while it was something of an eye-opening event for him — in part because many local people have subsequently approached him to share their own emotional experiences relating to their race — Oliver wants to put the incident itself behind him.

“Let’s make Fairfield a better place,” he said, hoping the event — which the family will privately be following up on — can be used to open a dialogue in the community and inspire “more incline than decline.”

“We have diversity here but we just have to find a way to get rid of those biases that have turned into a systemic problem,” he said.

“How do we come out of this with a focus on improvement?” First Selectman Michael Tetreau said, noting that while the town is great, there are many areas that can always use improvement.

“The world is becoming increasingly diverse going forward,” he said, “and Fairfield wants to be part of our world.”

While she has long had interest in the concepts and practices surrounding diversity, Hanson was prompted to action by last month’s incident.

“I said to my husband we’re moving or we’re gonna start a movement,” she said, “because I couldn’t handle how ignorant people were to race issues.”

Consequently, she said the first step is raising awareness about the idea that there are “unconscious biases and racism” here and everywhere.

“It’s teaching people to look through a different lens,” she said.

Also, she said, “I think there are a lot of people that see this as an issue. They have the awareness. They just want something to be done with it.”

“I’m hoping what we can create here is everybody coming together to solve a problem,” said Bryan Hanson, noting problem-solving was the goal rather than just finger pointing.

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Several speakers at the rally made it clear that problems exist in town. One dark-haired Latino mother shared about being stopped while picking up her son at their Fairfield elementary school and asked if she had a note with permission, as her son has blondish hair.

“I’ve been asked if I need a passport to be here,” she said, near tears.

Amanda Hanson said institutions like the police department and schools need to be held accountable, even if there is education to be done to make that happen.

She also would like to see residents of Fairfield reading a book called “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo, and subsequently getting together for some community discussions on the material.

“It’s been a personal mission to become more racially literate and to become a better human,” she said.

“At the end of the day it’s about the community coming together and addressing important issues and topics,” said Police Chief Chris Lyddy, “and finding ways we can coalesce.”

“We’re happy to be here and join in that effort,” he said.