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|Brazilians, police praise seminar sessions||Thursday, December 6, 2007|
|Liz Mineo 508-626-3825||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM - When the police department began offering a seminar for Brazilian civic leaders a month ago, officials were hoping it would help them start gaining the community's trust.
As the four-session seminar came to an end last Thursday - with an invitation for Brazilians to volunteer with the police and increase their civic involvement - both sides said some progress has been made, but there is still work to be done.
"The gap between the police and the Brazilian community is still there," said Tony Otero, an office manager at a Brazilian-owned real state company, summing up the feelings of many leaders who attended the seminar. "Maybe after this, it could become smaller," he said. "But there are many in the Brazilian community that still don't trust the police."
Nearly 40 Brazilian community leaders, among businesspeople, pastors, civic activists, and media representatives, took part in the seminar a sort of a Brazilian citizen police academy held at the police station. The event was a follow-up of the Framingham Brazilian Community-Wide Dialogue, which police spearheaded this summer.
The seminar covered topics such as immigration law enforcement, criminal and constitutional laws, and driver's licenses regulations, all of which were raised in the June 18 dialogue. Police invited officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Boston office, the Middlesex District Attorney's office, and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to address the audience.
Police hoped the event would help activists have a better understanding of law enforcement, but the main goal was to foster cooperation between police and the Brazilian community. Police Chief Steven Carl said the seminar has helped both sides start learning to trust each other.
"Some trust has developed, trust that has been lacking for years," Carl told the audience last Thursday. "The seminar has helped us start building trust. It's been a giant step, but it's the first step."
Brazilian advocates felt the same way, but they are pondering what's next. The sentiment among them, after the meeting, was that of urgency for Brazilian civic leaders to unite to have a stronger say in town's affairs.
Shirley Farber, who hosts a Brazilian television program from Stoughton, said the seminar underscored the need for civic leaders to work together.
"There are too many fractions within the community," said Farber. "We sat down together and realized we're on the same side."
Arlete Falkowski of the Brazilian American Association, agreed.
"We sat down to learn about the laws," she said. "We need to follow up with actions. We need to act as a group to work for the community."
Advocates praised police for holding the seminar and reaching out to the Brazilian community. Many said they learned valuable information and established relationships with government officials, which may help them better serve the community.
As for what happens next, Brazilian leaders are planning to continue the dialogue among themselves to increase their civic involvement and political participation.
"We've been empowered," said businesswoman Vera Dias-Freitas at the meeting. "We're not united. We need to work together and support each other. Our community can make a difference."
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