Police violence against people of color is a pandemic in Connecticut and across the country. Since April 16, police in Connecticut have shot at four young Black and Latino drivers and passengers, killing one, severely injuring another, and endangering the lives of two. In New Haven, Hamden Police Department employee Devon Eaton and Yale Police Department employee Terrance Pollock shot and injured Stephanie Washington and shot at Paul Witherspoon. In Wethersfield, Wethersfield Police Department employee Layau Eulizier, Jr. shot and killed 18-year-old Anthony “Chulo” Vega and shot at the young woman who was also in Vega’s car; Eulizier was among the Manchester Police Department employees who shot and killed a man in 2015.
Members of the Hamden, New Haven, and Yale communities, including People Against Police Brutality, Black Lives Matter New Haven, and Justice for Jayson, have organized large protests calling for accountability, justice, transparency, and democratic control over police. Members of Anthony Vega’s family, Wethersfield residents, and Moral Monday CT have held rallies calling for the same.
Connecticut does not collect or report the number of times that police hurt or kill people, so the public and policymakers must rely on news reports to attempt to track those numbers. According to news reports, since 2013, police in Connecticut have shot and killed at least 24 people. Since 2005, at least 18 people have died after being tased by police in Connecticut. In 2017, at least six people died in Connecticut, including a three-year-old boy, after police decided to chase people with their vehicles – an increase from previous years.
We shouldn’t have to even keep a body count from police violence, because no one should die at the hands of police. The American Public Health Association is right: police violence is a public health issue. It is also a moral issue and a failure of our country’s democracy.
Ending police violence requires a fundamental change in how Connecticut defines and understands public safety. Public safety is not policing. Public safety is healthy, strong communities, and it requires investing in and protecting marginalized communities from violence and harm, including at the hands of government actors like police employees. There is no single solution, because a wholesale system change is required.
Ending police violence requires all Connecticut residents to demand better from our governments locally, statewide, and federally. And it requires all of our government actors, from mayors and town councilmembers to state legislators and members of Congress, to take action now.
Locally, towns have the power to stop bargaining away police accountability. Towns have the power to stop agreeing to contracts that shield police employees from democratic oversight and justice. Towns can also create more resident-led police oversight boards with meaningful power to hold police accountable for violence, ensure police transparency, and conduct independent investigations into police wrongdoing. Mayors and Town Councils can create and pass local policies that prevent police violence and create democratic oversight over police. And more people who want to end police violence can run for police oversight positions in municipal governments.
At the state level, Connecticut has the power to establish statewide oversight of police. This legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly can and should pass a law to rein in police uses of force; mandate the state to collect and publish information about all police uses of force, including car chases; and require all police departments to publish all of their policies and procedures publicly online. Legislators also have the power to pass laws to: prohibit municipal and state governments from bargaining away democratic accountability for police; and require public disclosure, within a strict timeline, of video and audio recordings in cases of police misconduct and violence. In the longer term, Connecticut could establish a statewide licensure board, with jurisdiction over state and local police, with the power to receive complaints and to independently investigate and decertify police employees. Connecticut could create an independent office to investigate and prosecute police misconduct cases, so prosecutors who work directly with police are no longer in charge of those decisions.
Federally, Connecticut’s congressional delegation can fight for Congress to fund National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research into the health consequences for individuals and communities of police violence, including by studying the disproportionate harms and deaths among people of color; people with disabilities, including mental illness; people who are unsheltered; poor people; LGBTQ populations; and immigrants. Congress could also fund could research to determine comprehensive estimates of the number of people hurt or killed by police violence and studies into ways to decrease reliance on police, including investments in community health, and community-based public safety alternatives such as violence intervention and restorative justice.
The past week has shown, once again, that Connecticut needs to take democratic control over police. Families and communities are in pain and seeking answers and justice from state and local governments, only to encounter callous and irresponsible stonewalling and silence from public officials who have the power to create change. It is long past time for town and state elected officials to stop abdicating their responsibilities and start taking action to end police violence.
How many more people have to die or be hurt by police before Connecticut starts holding police accountable to democratic checks and balances?