The wrongful killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 has directed the country’s attention to inequities in policing that run contrary to the principles of equality and blind justice put forth in our founding documents. Only time will tell whether we’re serious about making systemic changes.
Amid the nationwide unrest over the killing of Floyd, at least two positive points stand out, locally: that the demonstrations held in Meriden and Wallingford last weekend were peaceful and positive in nature, and that Meriden’s leaders are proposing a wide range of additions to the city's anti-discrimination policies.
And if there is a time to address these problems with actions, not just words, surely this is that time.
Saturday's rally drew about 1,000 people to the Meriden Green. On Sunday, a few hundred marched from City Hall to the Green. And a Friday night rally in Wallingford also drew hundreds. Demonstrations in Cheshire, Southington, New Haven, Middletown, and elsewhere in the state were also nonviolent.
“We must fight together. Fight for equality ...” and fight systemic oppression, said State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden.
“This is a call for action for all of us,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, suggesting that there could be a special legislative session this summer to deal with such issues.
The Meriden City Council scheduled an online meeting for Wednesday to discuss a resolution with eight action items, although more could be added. The items initially in the resolution included:
The mayor and City Council would take a new oath of office that would include a commitment to support racial equality; the mayor and council would develop standards for assessing the “racial impact” of council resolutions; the city would establish a “cultural diversity and racial equity council” by Sept. 1; the city would prioritize recruiting and hiring practices that reflect the diversity of the city population; the city would “proactively communicate and be transparent and responsive on all reported issues of discrimination”; all city employees and elected officials would participate in racial equity and cultural diversity training; all members of the Police Department would participate in mandatory racial-bias training; and the Police Department would track and report racial equity-centered statistics to the City Council.
Some councilors also support a civilian police review board, which would act as an independent oversight panel for the Police Department.
Democrat Sonya Jelks called the resolution a good “first step” in “looking at ways in which we can truly be agents of change around racial discrimination and police brutality.”
“With the direction that we as a country have been going in,” said Millie Torres-Ferguson, the Democratic town chairwoman and a member of the committee searching for a replacement for retiring Police Chief Jeffry Cossette, “I think it's important for the incoming police chief to know how important this is to our community.”
While that’s certainly true, it is just as important for everyone in town to know that this first step, and any subsequent steps, mean that Meriden is committed to facing the issues of racial bias, in policing and in government in general.
The Meriden Police Department has issued a statement saying that it “stands with its community against racism and police brutality.”
So the inspiration is there. Next comes the perspiration it will take to see these ideas through.