This open letter was written by state Rep. Anne Hughes, D-135th District, and other members of the Connecticut legislature asking them to add their names to this call for action to address issues of systemic racism.
Today, on this 65th anniversary of the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his murderers, we are yet AGAIN reeling from the latest violent evidence of systemic racism and the terrorism it wreaks, reverberating from Kenosha, Wisconsin and across the country. We are beginning to understand the outrage, exhaustion, and numbness of Black, Brown and Indigenous Americans to this legacy of systemic racism.
Our all too familiar pattern of police violence and systemic inequality under the law played out again tragically this week in Kenosha. Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by police though he has been charged with no crime. Meanwhile, an armed white teen, encouraged to vigilante violence by the president, Fox News, and white supremacists in our society, obtained an illegal long gun, crossed state lines, and arrived in Kenosha.
Though he shot three people—killing two—he was initially allowed to walk past police and return home unharmed. There could be no clearer example of the outrages committed under our two-tiered system. Black and Brown people are routinely assumed to be criminals, terrorized, and too often killed as a result of interactions with the police. By contrast, white people are accustomed to deference and protection when dealing with law enforcement. This latitude means white people are much less likely to even be viewed as criminals, making the interactions with police exponentially more survivable.
This is the very definition of systemic racism on spectacular display, occurring with numbing frequency,throughout our country. Inaction of policymakers is deadly. We see our own pattern of systemic racism here in Connecticut. White UConn student Peter Manfredonia, an armed and dangerous fugitive from justice, was apprehended unharmed to be charged with multiple murders and kidnapping.
In stark contrast, we saw the police killing of unarmed teen Jayson Negron, and the fatal police shootings of Jose Soto, Mubarak Soulemane, Alphonso Zaporta, Anthony Vega Cruz, Kyron Sands, Juan McCray, Zoe Dowdell–all men of color- just in the past few years in Connecticut. No officers have been charged in these deaths. This is the two-tiered system of policing and justice that sparked outrage 65 years ago when Emmett Till was lynched and runs through our history to the present day.
This is a failure of our public institutions, government, justice system, and of the culture we inhabit which consistently values white people, property and privilege over Black, Brown and Indigenous lives. The public outcry and demands for systemic change across the towns, cities and streets in our state did not start with the historic Civil Rights March on Washington 57 years ago today, nor did it start with the death of George Floyd on May 25 and the subsequent public protests. And it did not end with the Police Accountability Bill we indeed passed in Special Session in July.
May we never grow wearily accustomed to the ‘wildfires’ of systemic racism and white supremacy that our system perpetuates and the violence and trauma it inflicts on our communities. Let us resolve to fight these fires and dismantle these systems, while acknowledging that, though nearly two generations have passed since Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech on this date, there is still much work to do. As policymakers we must place those most harmed by systemic racism at the center of our efforts to reimagine and rebuild better public systems, institutions and public services that finally serve and protect everyone.
It is time to honor the lives of Emmett Till, Jayson Negron, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many more by dismantling the deadly systems built on white privilege and racism we have sustained for too long. As policymakers, we are renewing our commitment to the hard work we have begun but remains unfinished. This is why as part-time legislators we must work full-time and even stay in Session until we enact meaningful policy changes that ‘at last…,’ stop the killing and build the equitable systems that live up to Dr. King’s vision.
Representative Anne Hughes
Representative David Michel
Representative Jillian Gilchrest