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Protest, work for change, but reject violence

“At Saturday’s protest, (New London Police Capt. Brian) Wright said no arrests were made, no one was injured and no property was damaged.”

So concluded Day Staff Writer Taylor Hartz’s news story on the weekend march through New London and subsequent demonstration at Parade Plaza. Demonstrators channeled their anger over the death in police hands of George Floyd. They called for an end to police disproportionately targeting people of color in police stops and decried a record of too many of these encounters ending with fatal actions by police.

They delivered their message, they vented their fury, but peacefully. For that they should be proud. It says something positive about this community we share.

It was in stark contrast to the scenes in major cities across the country, where protestors turned violent, looting businesses, setting fires. It is difficult to know who the agitators in these mobs are. Anarchists who want to take this opportunity to create massive unrest and undermine our democratic institutions? White supremacists infiltrating protest ranks hoping to spur a race war? Angry demonstrators fed up that peaceful protests of past police misconduct have not been effective in preventing more of the same?

Rage and resentment are running very high. Sorting out the motivations and actions of a mob is confounding and complex. Quick assumptions are dangerous. But order must be maintained. Law enforcement, the target of the anger — in some cities augmented by the National Guard — faces a difficult task in displaying sufficient force to maintain order but not reacting so violently that it escalates the mob response.

Peaceful protest, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, can play an important role in spotlighting injustice. So too can civil disobedience.

But violence only escalates discord.

In a Monday essay posted on Medium, former President Barack Obama makes the important point that protests alone are unlikely to drive needed change.

“The bottom line is this: if we want to bring real change, then choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both,” writes Obama on Medium, an internet platform with the lofty, subjective goal of providing “compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives” and “to find the best reading … and filter out the rest.”

Compared to the burst of adrenaline, the sense of action that participation in a protest can provide, the work of changing policy can be difficult and even tedious. It involves most fundamentally voting, but also organizing and producing candidates that can drive desired change. As Obama notes in the essay, such political activism concerning regulating police conduct can be most effective at the local level, but it is those elections that receive the least attention.

Out of despair, some may lament that “nothing changes.” But that is not true.

For a case in point go back just one year ago. Connecticut had experienced a series of troubling uses of force by police firing into vehicles during traffic stops or chases.

The state legislature responded with use-of-force legislation. The landmark bill achieved unanimous approval in the Senate before, unfortunately, breaking down along party lines in the House of Representatives, with Democrats voting largely in favor, Republicans unanimously against, for 86-60 passage about a year ago.

The bill requires dashboard camera recordings to be made available to the public within 96 hours of an incident, ending long delays in which suspicions can ferment public unrest or during which police can try to take control of the narrative.

The new law requires law enforcement agencies to issue an annual use of force report; creates a task force that is charged with making policing more transparent; and mandates that the Police Officer Standards and Training Council review standards governing firearm’s use during pursuits.

While this example is not exactly on point concerning the Floyd case — in which officers in Minneapolis acted with gross misconduct that ended with the death of a suspect picked up on a minor crime, and which has led so far to one officer being charged with murder — it does show the legislative process can be used to move policy in the right direction.

Get angry. Demand change. But then get about the harder work of achieving it. Don’t lose hope.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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