In the weeks since Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, Louisville police murdered Breonna Taylor, and Tallahassee police murdered Tony McDade, people across the U.S. – including Connecticut – have risen up, demanding a change to the system of policing that kills Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people with impunity while tearing apart communities through overpolicing. Black and Latinx communities across Connecticut, like the rest of the country, have borne the brunt of the militarization, surveillance, and criminalization from ever-increasing police budgets and presence. At least five people have died at the hands of Connecticut police in 2020. And in Connecticut, as is the case nationally, organizers are demanding elected officials completely rethink policing.
The movement to end police violence is not a new one. This movement has been around since the early days of policing and has always been led by activists and organizers from communities that have been harmed by the police. The solutions that the nation is finally hearing and grappling with are not new: these ideas for ending police violence have existed since at least the 1960s. It’s time that the people in power begin to listen, at long last.
Every elected official, at every level of government, has a role and responsibility to commit to the big, systemic changes that our state and towns urgently need to stop police violence and the racism inherent to policing. Politicians can’t offer up piecemeal approaches and think their work is done. Yet it’s become clear that some politicians are inclined to interpret protests without deeply listening to what people are saying.
So, we decided to gather together the demands that we’ve heard from Black and Latinx organizers, especially youth, in some of Connecticut’s largest cities: New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury. Because if policymakers want to know how to end police violence and racism, they have a wealth of knowledge in their own backyards.
Here are just some of the demands from people organizing in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury:
End police violence
People are demanding an end to police violence, especially against Black and Brown people. Organizers in the largest cities in the state all say that police must immediately stop killing people.
Divest from policing, reinvest in Black and Latinx communities
The most consistent, frequent theme from people demanding an end to police violence has been a demand for municipalities to divest from policing and reinvest those funds into communities. Specific demands vary – from a community workspace in Waterbury to nonlethal community safety personnel in Hartford to affordable housing in New Haven – demonstrating that the places where reinvestment is most urgent vary from place to place.
In Hartford, people are calling for the City to divert money from policing to instead invest that money into education, mental healthcare, housing, economic opportunity, and food access; they’ve also called for the City to divest from having police respond to routine calls about situations not involving violence and instead reinvest that money in nonlethal community safety personnel. In New Haven, people are calling on the City to divest $33 million from its $43 million-plus police budget and reinvest in public education, and to divest $20 million from police pensions (which is separate from that $43 million policing budget) to instead reinvest that money in affordable housing. Waterbury community members are calling for the City to divest .5% of the overall city budget from policing and to reallocate that funding to multimedia coworking space. In Bridgeport, people are calling for the City to divest from the police department and invest in health, education, safe housing, and community livelihood.
While 80 towns in Connecticut do not have police departments, residents of cities like New Haven are often policed by more than one, contributing to a world in which Black and Latinx communities in our state are under siege. People in New Haven are demanding the dissolution of the Yale Police Department and reinvestment of that funding into New Haven, and for New Haven’s mayor to end agreements that allow police from neighboring towns like Hamden to police people New Haven neighborhoods like Newhallville and Dixwell.
The people who understand what their communities need are the people in those communities, and especially Black and Latinx people who have been harmed by policing. People know that real health and safety lie in things that build up and support people, not in policing. When towns or the state takes money from policing, the future use of that money must be dictated solely by community priorities rather than what politicians think is the best use of funds.
End the school-to-prison-pipeline
Another near-universal demand has been for the end of the school to prison pipeline. Organizers across the state have called out the presence of school resource officers on K-12 campuses as a facet of policing that must end immediately. Leaders have called on schools to terminate the contracts of all school resource officers and to instead funnel the savings into school counselors.
Community control and accountability for police
A common refrain from people advocating for an end to police violence has been the need for charges against police who kill people. Many organizers are also calling for towns to fire police employees who commit violence or misconduct, including those who have been named in excessive force complaints. Organizers have also demanded towns to fire police chiefs who have perpetuated or ignored police harms – in Bridgeport, for example, people have called for the City to fire police chief AJ Perez.
People in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport have all called for civilian review boards with membership decided by anti-racism activists in the community. People in New Haven have called for a civilian review board with power to discipline and fire police. They are calling, in other words, for civilian review boards that operate by and for the people, especially Black and Latinx people, free from the conflicts of interest that can hamstring civilian review boards’ usefulness for police accountability. In Hartford, for instance, people are calling for a civilian review board whose members are chosen neither by the police department nor the mayor.
Other changes that organizers have demanded include dismantling local tools of surveillance that police use to profile Black and Latinx people (Bridgeport’s ShotSpotter technology and gang database). Demilitarization is another concern, with groups citing the need to get rid of tank-like vehicles and military style assault weapons (Bridgeport).
Accountability from policymakers
People are also calling for reducing the influence of police over politicians. Different organizers have approached this in different ways, with some demanding an end to police lobbying (Hartford), citywide anti-racism training for elected officials conducted by community members (Hartford), politicians refuse campaign donations from police unions (Bridgeport), and others calling for the resignation of politicians who signed off on a massive grant to expand unchecked police surveillance (Hartford).
These demands from Black and Latinx organizers in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury – and those from other towns across the state – make clear that people want an end to policing as we know it, not one or two small things.
People are calling on policymakers step up to take on these big changes, and core to all of these demands has been an expectation for budgets that prioritize community needs, not policing. These demands also make clear that if policymakers choose to focus only on body cameras, training, or one type of police use of force, they are not listening to the very clear expectations outlined by Black and Latinx leaders.
It’s critical for Connecticut officials, locally and statewide, to start aligning their priorities with those of Black and Latinx organizers who are calling for divestment and systemic change, and for those policymakers to get to work now.
To hear more about demands coming from grassroots organizers in Connecticut, follow these groups: