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A plan to address systemic racial inequities

State lawmakers can pass needed police reforms, help assure a safe election, then undertake historic social justice policies in 2021. Here's how.

First, use a July special session of the Connecticut General Assembly to pass comprehensive legislation to improve police accountability, prohibit the use of force unless clearly necessary, and strengthen the process of investigating police who break the rules.

Second, pass a bill to clarify that the ability to vote by mail-in absentee ballot because of “sickness” legally includes the threat of sickness posed by a health crisis, such as the current pandemic.

Third, with the public given the proper tools to vote safely in November even if coronavirus cases spike in a second wave, state legislative candidates can make their case directly to voters for why comprehensive reform in education, economic opportunity, health care and housing are necessary to address systemic racial inequities — or why it’s not.

Fourth, given the mandate for comprehensive reform that we are confident voters will give the legislature on Nov. 3, the state Senate and House can, in the 2021 regular session, place on the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont historic legislation to correct the inequities in opportunity between poor minority communities and their wealthier suburban neighbors that have been allowed to persist too long.

We recognize that there are those who passionately want to get it all done — now. The people have energized these lawmakers by peaceably massing in the streets and demanding an end to incidents of police brutality, to disproportionate enforcement targeting Black Americans, and to social policies that have sustained racial injustice.

But it is not reasonable, nor preferable, to try to pass sweeping social reforms in the brevity of a special summer session. This is why we agree with Gov. Ned Lamont that the focus in a special session should be on police accountability and ballot accessibility.

Then we urge lawmakers who agree with us that it is time to go big, to campaign on a broad social reform package and then undertake it in the regular session. This would allow for the debate, public hearings and amendments that such groundbreaking legislation deserves.

In the meantime, numerous police reforms deserve adoption in the special session. Change the permitted use of force standard from “reasonable” to “necessary.” Require police to wear body cameras and keep them on while on duty. Provide fiscally challenged communities the means to provide the cameras. End “no-knock” warrants that allow police to burst into a dwelling without warning. Require police to wear clearly visible name tags.

Increase the authority of civilian police review boards to conduct their own investigations of department conduct. And create an independent Office of Inspector General to assess potential criminal conduct by police. Now, state’s attorneys — meaning prosecutors — conduct such investigations. The conflict of interest is obvious. Prosecutors need the cooperation of police. Under the current arrangement, only one criminal charge has been lodged against an officer in the last 20 years.

As for the broader social reforms that could be undertaken in the 2021 session, there are some exciting ideas.

Create “Renaissance Districts” in our cities, with the goal of transforming neighborhoods for the good of the people who live in them, not to gentrify them and force residents into poor conditions elsewhere. Establish state programs to bulk up retail development, back minority-owned businesses, and incentivize the locating of modern manufacturing in these communities, while providing the training programs to staff them.

Boost minority teacher recruitment. Continue to back magnet-school programs such as those that have emerged in New London. Provide greater opportunities for students from poor communities to attend better-funded school districts, all with the goal of ending 21st century segregation.

While the nation awaits an administration in Washington that will tackle the issue of providing universal access to health-care coverage, Connecticut must be prepared to address health-care disparities, assuring the poor, and disproportionately minorities, do not have to settle for second-rate care.

These are big, complex issues, but the public appears ready. Take the case to that public. Acquire a mandate. Then act.

 

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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