HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) —With a Black Lives Matter flag flying over the Connecticut state Capitol, Democratic state senators announced their commitment Friday to a multitude of legislative proposals aimed at addressing systemic racial inequities, including wide-ranging police reforms, and efforts to improve economic, educational and housing opportunities for racial minorities.
Purposely making the announcement on Juneteenth, a day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people, lawmakers said this is another historic time in the nation’s history as people protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and demand a reckoning of policies they say have made many African Americans more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“Our past actions have caught up with us. And it is time to do the work and undo the past,” state Sen. Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport said during a news conference the state Capitol. “It is time to address racial equity and social justice. The movement demands it and the movement will not accept promises.”
Hours later, a crowed estimated by the State Capitol Police estimated about 4,000 people, many dressed in black, marked Juneteenth by rallying outside the Capitol building chanting “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” and urging reforms. The rally-goers then marched across Bushnell Park to the Hartford Police Department.
Events were held in other Connecticut communities as well to mark Juneteenth, including West Hartford where the mayor said she hoped to make it an annual tradition.
The lawmakers said they hope to address as much of their agenda as possible in a planned special legislation session in July, but acknowledged the list is lengthy and may take more time. So far, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who recently signed an executive order concerning police practices, has said he wants the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to return for a special session to pass additional police reforms and address expanded absentee balloting for the November elections, given COVID-19 health concerns.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said bipartisan talks have so far only focused on police accountability and absentee ballots, not the majority of the proposals laid out in the Senate Democrats’ 14-page “Juneteenth Agenda.”
“Certainly the Senate Democrats have every right to express the top topics that are of importance to them and I respect those, but in a special session this summer, it’s important that we touch on the subjects that are the most important and urgent for the time being,” she said.
Lamont also suggested that many of the Senate Democrats’ ideas would have to wait until the General Assembly reconvenes its regular session in January, noting “there’s still more that we need to do” beyond policy accountability and expanded ballot access “to address the complex and difficult problems and racial and economic inequality.”
The Senate Democrats’ broad proposal calls for addressing the state’s educational achievement disparities; investing more money in more affordable housing, retail and social services in certain neighborhoods; addressing health disparities by race and ethnicity; improving minority teacher recruitment efforts; capping insulin costs; enacting presumptive eligibility for workers compensation benefits; establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday; and changing laws that address local zoning, among other issues.
Proposals for police reforms include decertifying officers convicted of misconduct; banning chokeholds and other acts considered dangerous; banning so-called “no-knock warrants” when entering a property without notification; requiring officers to intervene when another is engaging in brutality or other misconduct; requiring police body cameras; increasing the power of civilian review boards; and improving anti-bias training for police.
The plan also calls for charging people with a crime for calling 911 and making false accusations against someone based on race and reforming arrest policies to stop unnecessary detentions and custodial arrests.
Some of the ideas concerning policing were included in Lamont’s recent executive order and proposed by other groups seeking reforms.
State Rep. Anthony Nolan, a New London Democrat who also is a police officer, said he’s pushing for reforms that include more oversight of investigations and prosecutions of police who commit wrongdoing. He also supports other measures, such as requiring officers wear name tags on their outer clothing, imposing community service instead of fines for some crimes that disproportionately impact low-income residents.
“Our intention is to correct the police officers out there doing wrong,” he said. “All of the things that we are doing through this police accountability legislation does not hurt any officers who are doing right. It is to get at the officers who are doing wrong.”
Also Friday, Connecticut U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, said they’re pursuing federal legislation that would establish a national standard for how police departments operate. It would also mandate data collection on police encounters, refocus funds to community-based policing; streamline the process for prosecuting excessive force cases; and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations.