The story of 2020, from this summer’s protests against the police murders of Black people, to efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, to the national presidential election, is the story of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx organizers – especially women – fighting for their and their loved ones’ survival. Often, their work has also meant saving others. Beyond thanking Black organizers and voters, it’s long past time for Connecticut politicians to start prioritizing racial justice policies.
The past four years of the Trump administration have been characterized by racism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and bigotry. Yet we also saw people across the country come together, time and again, to protest and fight for our rights. From the thousand people who showed up at tiny Bradley Airport to condemn the Muslim ban, to the tens of thousands who took to the streets to call for a Connecticut that values Black lives, we’ve borne witness to the largest civil rights marches this country and state have ever seen.
This movement for civil rights is not new. What felt new this year was the sheer number of white people who seemed to awaken to the ways systemic racism permeates every aspect of our country, from housing, to jobs, to healthcare, to policing, to education, to the criminal legal system, to voting rights. White people didn’t magically come to this realization on their own.
Black strategists -- Kimberlé Crenshaw, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, the Movement for Black Lives, and many, many others -- organized, campaigned, educated, and brought America to this point.
“We are just not behind-the-scenes organizers. We are strategists. We are thought leaders. We are movement builders, and for so long Black women have always been undermined, whether it’s by racism or sexism and other isms. It’s just our time,” Professor Brittany Yancy told the Hartford Courant last week.
And she’s right. While the United States held its breath last week waiting for presidential election results, Black voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and across the country turned out and flexed their power for racial justice.
Because of the groundwork laid by the Movement for Black Lives, when voters went to the polls or cast their absentee ballots, 69% said that racism was either an important problem or the most important problem facing the United States. The majority (57%) view the Black Lives Matter movement favorably (including 78% of Biden voters and 20% of Trump voters).
Absentee and early voters, a group more relevant than ever this election, named racial inequality as the second most important issue facing the country – more important even than COVID-19.
Meanwhile, 99% of Black voters who voted for Biden said racial inequality was the most important issue to their vote. Ninety-eight percent of Black Biden voters said racism in the U.S. is the most important problem. Ninety-seven percent of Black Biden voters view BLM favorably. And 96% of Black Biden voters say the criminal justice system treats Black people unfairly.
This tracks what we’ve seen in Connecticut. In our poll of voters in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport – the first Connecticut polling on policing in which the majority of respondents were voters of color -- 81% believe that as communities face police violence and racism, it is more important than ever for their city to take steps to reform its criminal legal system. Large majorities of voters in all three cities supported reallocating money from policing to instead go toward things that make communities thrive – local neighborhood education, mental healthcare, addiction treatment, youth programs, jobs, infrastructure, housing, youth programs.
Black voters were even more supportive. Seventy-eight percent of Black voters surveyed support (and the majority, 57%, strongly support) ending the police presence in k-12 schools and instead investing that money into school counselors, nurses, social workers, and other supports to keep kids in positive environments. Eighty-four percent agree, and 60% strongly agree, that their city should be redirecting some of money it spends on policing to instead go to social services.
Black voters know what they and their families need. They’ve been saying it for centuries, and they are leading this country forward right now. Our country, state, and towns need policies that take their lead.
Nationally, we must hold the Biden/Harris administration and Congress accountable for making real, systemic racial justice changes, not just to undo harms of the Trump administration but to push forward.
In some ways, however, the question of what happens at the state and local levels is even more critical, especially in states like Connecticut where it may be all too easy for even progressive elected officials to become complacent.
Local and state election officials must prioritize Black voters’ priorities. White voters need to listen to Black voters and push for those same priorities, with more fervor than ever before. It is up to all of us, especially white voters who owe it to the world to show up, to hold every public official – state legislators, the Governor, administration officials, mayors and first selectpeople, town councilors and alders, zoning boards, and more – accountable to racial justice, daily. This is a mandate always, not just when high-profile news stories remind policymakers of the importance of Black voters, the ways systemic racism in healthcare is killing Black people from COVID-19, or of police murdering Black people in our state or elsewhere.
There are plenty of opportunities for people to push for policies that value Black lives. Connecticut has a new legislature, including many new representatives and senators, coming into session on January 6, 2021. Governor Lamont is still in charge of our state’s COVID-19 response, and with the federal courts decimated by Trump administration appointments, Lamont’s power to appoint state-level judges is more salient than ever. The Connecticut Department of Correction may see a new Commissioner this year. Many towns and cities have police union contracts and budgets up for debate in 2021. After a successful absentee voting experiment this election, statewide elected officials are looking again at early voting and absentee voting for all.
Meanwhile, Connecticut has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. Our housing and wealth systems are among the most racially segregated and unequal. Systemic racism in our state’s COVID-19 response means that Black and Latinx Connecticut residents are more than three times more likely to have tested positive for COVID-19 than white people, and Black Connecticut residents are more than two and a half times more likely to have died from COVID-19. Systemic racism in the criminal legal system means that in a state that is 80% white, our prisons and jails are 70% Black and Latinx. While the state and local governments have chronically underinvested in Black and Latinx people, they have invested billions into policing and incarceration – Waterbury, for instance, gives police detectives a $1,000 per year clothing allowance, yet teachers in Connecticut spend on average $400 out of their own pocket to buy school supplies for students. And as the legal attack on Connecticut’s trans-inclusive student sports policies, aimed explicitly at our clients who are two Black trans girls, has shown, Trumpism doesn’t go away with Trump or his administration.
The list of ways the state must start to address these issues is long:
- Modernize voting laws by creating absentee voting for all and early voting
- Decrease the role, responsibilities, and size of the entire criminal legal system, and increase oversight – from policing, to prosecutors, to incarceration
- Reallocate money from policing to local neighborhood education, mental healthcare, addiction treatment, jobs, infrastructure, programming to keep kids in safe environments, and school counselors and nurses
- End discrimination against people living with a criminal record
- Close Northern Correctional Institution and Manson Youth Institution
- Enact equity in the state’s COVID-19 response to end the systemic racism that is endangering Black and Latinx Connecticut residents
- Create the equity systems that advocates have been demanding for years – in pay, housing, health, jobs, infrastructure, access to democracy, food, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ rights, disability rights, and more
Every one of these items is necessary and doable. Led by Black organizers, voters have shown that ending racism must be a priority of every incoming elected official in Connecticut.
“We never stopped the work. The work never stops, and we’re not going to stop the work now,” Rhonda Caldwell of Hamden Action Now told the Courant last week.
We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and work harder than ever. It’s up to everyone to do the same.