‘The State of Race:’ How do we begin the healing process?

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(WTNH) — In the weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody, one thing has become clear — this country is hurting. The question now is how do we begin to heal? On Thursday, News 8 was proud to bring you “The State of Race” — an exclusive Town Hall aimed at helping to answer that question and taking a step to bridge the racial divide.

The show brought together government and community leaders, activists and law enforcement officials to discuss how we begin the healing process.

Many of the panelists said it was hard to watch the video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but some said they weren’t surprised by Chauvin’s actions.

“I would like to say that I was shocked, but I was not,” said Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac University. “But, I was indeed outraged…I may be the only person on this panel that has not watched the entire video because my soul cannot stomach that.”

However, Brown-Dean was not the only one who couldn’t watch the video, Connecticut State Representative Brandon McGee couldn’t either.

“I did not watch the video, and I almost wanted to turn my camera off and walk away from the computer as you all [News 8] played it as an intro,” he said. “My stomach still hurts. My heart is heavy…”

WATCH: Panelists respond to how they felt watching the video of an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck

Among the night’s topics was police reform. Since Floyd’s death, protesters have demanded the defunding of police along with police reform. That topic has been a hot button issue in Connecticut as well.

Hartford’s City Council made major changes to the city’s police budget, ultimately proposing cuts of $1 million from the budget and redistributing more than $1.5 million to different places within the department. 

When asked about police reform, Governor Ned Lamont said, “I’ve got to do everything I can to make sure that people have trust in the police and the police have trust in the community, and if I could emphasize anything it would be more community policing.”

WATCH: Governor Ned Lamont talks about police reform, says he needs to make sure people trust police

He said police need to reach out to people like those on this panel and ministers to make sure they’re working together.

“I love the message I’ve heard from the folks you were just hearing [the panelists]. We’re unanimous in this state. We know it [Floyd’s treatment] was inhumane. We know it was wrong, and every day we wake up and try and make tomorrow better, and I think we learned a lot. We learned a lot.”

A significant fear for a person of color is interaction with the police — often during traffic stops. The panel agreed that there was an indifference when it came to how people of color are treated when getting pulled over.

“I hear time and time again about these racial profiling stops,” said Fernando Spagnolo, Chief of the Waterbury Police Department. “Oftentimes, that information doesn’t make it to a police chief’s level or the Internal Affairs Division because there’s fear. There’s a fear that if someone from the black community comes forward, and makes a complaint against a police officer because of racial profiling, that that person will be targetted because there is the ‘blue wall,’ there is the cone of silence. We really have to work hard to break that fear to make sure that information comes forward.”

WATCH: Panelists comment on traffic stops and how they differ for people of color

Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden said it’s infuriating that he’s had to teach his own son how to act when being pulled over by an officer just because of the color of his skin.

“As a Black man who’s been stopped, and who’s been stopped with my son in the car, I had to not only have the talk but I had to demonstrate it with my walk with the police. Which is…mission is to stay alive. It’s just that simple, and as a proud Black man, to be as polite as possible, to be as nice as possible, to be as non-threatening as possible, and knowing you have done nothing wrong, that is the mission. That’s the conversation of how to keep your kids alive and deal with the injustice of it later, and it’s infuriating, but you can’t show it because that’s fearful, that’s potentially threatening.”

One of the most crucial topics of the night was healing. What is healing, how do we heal and how do we move forward after the death of Floyd and the protests that have followed?

WATCH: The panel answers what healing looks like to each of them

“Healing comes with justice, and right now we have many situations across the state…in Connecticut, I know we’re crying out loud about what’s going on in Minneapolis and Georgia and in Kentucky, just right here in Connecticut we have open cases where officers have killed young African Americans and [are] walking away with no accountability,” said Scot X. Esdaile, NAACP State President.

“Healing also means that you stand with us, that you understand what we’re going through and you stand with us; you lend your voice to our plight,” added Bloomfield Mayor Suzette DeBeatham-Brown.

“Healing looks like being willing to be uncomfortable,” said Brown-Dean. “It looks like being committed to telling the unvarnished truth and being determined in what we do politically having an effect on our children and those to come and not accepting anything less than true equality.”

WATCH: “The State of Race” in its entirety – a discussion of healing the wounds and bridging the divide

See a full list of the panel below:

The guests included the 89th Governor of Connecticut, Ned Lamont. Lamont was sworn into office on Jan. 9, 2019, and before this year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, a good portion of his legislation was aimed at improving living conditions. That included legislation in May of 2019 raising the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour and eventually to $15 an hour.

Governor Ned Lamont

In October of 2019, Governor Lamont signed Executive Order Number 4, creating the Governor’s Workforce Council — a program designed to train workers for today’s jobs.

At his daily briefing on June 1, following a weekend of protests around the state, the governor said, “We have to do a better job of recruiting State Police who reflect the diversity of the community.”

Governor Lamont went on to express his disagreement with President Trump’s message that governors around the country needed to “dominate” the protesters or risk getting run over. Lamont has stopped short of calls to defund police in Connecticut, saying that’s “not the way.”

Speaking at a food drive on Wednesday, the governor said community policing will be a priority moving forward, and said that the Floyd death “undercut confidence” in police departments across the country.

Congresswoman Jahana Hayes

Congresswoman Jahana Hayes is serving her first term as the U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s 5th congressional district. Representative Hayes is the first African American woman and African American Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress. She also currently sits on the full House committees of Education and Labor, and Agriculture. 

A school teacher before running for political office, Hayes was first awarded Connecticut Teacher of the Year, before being recognized in 2016 as National Teacher of the Year.  Hayes’ husband is a member of the Waterbury police department.

On Monday, Hayes joined House colleagues in introducing the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, and the Police Training and Accountability Act with Representative Mark Pocan. Tuesday, Hayes issued a statement regarding those two pieces of legislation that said, in part:

To all the young people protesting: we hear you. To all the families who have tragically lost a loved one at the hands of police: we hear you. To all the police officers looking for adequate training and support: we hear you…This package is not anti-police. My husband has been in law enforcement for 23 years as part of the Waterbury Police Department. I recognize that any solution to the problem of police misconduct will have to include proper training and resources for law enforcement agencies in order to reform their practices.

Excerpt of statement from Representative Hayes
CT Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson

Another guest Thursday has made major history in his current role. The Honorable Richard Robinson was named the first black Chief Justice of the Connecticut State Supreme Court on May 3, 2018. Born in Stamford, Robinson attended UConn, graduating with a B.A. in English and a minor in ecology.

Chief Justice Robinson served as President of the Stamford Branch of the NAACP from 1988-90, and as General Counsel for the Connecticut Conference of the NAACP from 1988-2000. He has been a member of the State Supreme Court since 2013.

Robinson has tackled issues of race when it comes to jury selection – a crucial part of the criminal justice system – by appointing a broad-based task force to evaluate issues of racial fairness in the jury selection process.

CT State Treasurer Shawn Wooden

Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn Wooden was born and raised in Hartford, attended Manchester Public Schools as part of a desegregation busing program, and earned his B.A. in History from Trinity College in Hartford. From 2011 to 2015, Treasurer Wooden served as President of the Hartford City Council.

The Treasurer joined the Capitol Report crew this past week to discuss his editorial in the Hartford Courant that included the following: “While no one action will solve the racial problems America faces, this much is certain: We cannot continue doing the same things and expect different results. It is time for the wealthy and privileged to start pulling the levers of power they hold. Wall Street and corporate America, I’m speaking to you,” Wooden wrote in that editorial.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker

Justin Elicker was sworn in as the 51st Mayor of New Haven on January 1, 2020 and has been tasked with leading the Elm City through extremely trying times during his first six months on the job. Elicker took a knee during a recent protest on the New Haven Green, and told News 8 he is working to fill all positions on the city’s so far inactive Police Civilian Review Board.

Elicker told News 8 in that same interview that he is at the forefront of diverting funds from the police to ensure funding for youth and underserved groups, saying, “I reduced the number of positions in the police department by 10% so that I could ensure that we maintain our funding for youth, for homeless population, for other social services.”

The city of New Haven has seen its share of protests since the death of George Floyd, with one confrontation on the steps of the New Haven Police Department on May 31 after protestors demand an audience with the mayor.

Bloomfield Mayor Suzette DeBeatham-Brown

Mayor Suzette DeBeatham-Brown is the first black woman to be elected mayor of the Town of Bloomfield. The mayor has served as an ordained Minister for the Church of God, a Youth Advocate for the Urban League of Greater Hartford, a Chaplain for the Bloomfield Police Department, Chair of the Bloomfield Citizen Awareness Taskforce and Board member of Ascend Mentoring among other boards and committees.

Mayor DeBeatham-Brown spoke out on Tuesday when she held a news conference along with the town’s Police Chief to address two recent race-based incidents that took place in the town this month.

CT State Representative Brandon McGee

Connecticut State Representative Brandon McGee is serving his fourth term representing areas of Windsor and Hartford. McGee is the House chairman of the legislature’s Housing Committee and the chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.

A Hartford native, McGee is an advocate for equity in education, criminal justice reform, voter registration and empowerment for people of color and their communities. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Alabama, McGee returned to Connecticut to earn his  M.S. degree in Management and Organizational Leadership from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven.

McGee participated in the first large protest in Hartford following the death of George Floyd on May 30, telling News 8 at the time, “Today is an opportunity to set the narrative straight.”

Dori Dumas, President of New Haven NAACP Chapter

Like many of the guests on this Town Hall discussion, Dori Dumas has made some history in her current position as President of the New Haven chapter of the NAACP. Dumas is the first woman to hold that position since the New Haven chapter’s inception in 1917.

An Elm City native, and James Hillhouse High School and Albertus Magnus College graduate, Dumas entered the role of chapter President in the summer of 2014 saying that closing the education gap would be a primary objective during her first term.

Recently, Dumas and the New Haven chapter were involved with a drive to help black and brown communities in the city with access to PPE like masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, telling News 8, “Black and brown people matter. We want to live and be safe. We think it’s so important that everyone has a mask. Even those who can’t get someplace, purchase one that everyone has a right to be protected, everyone matters, we want our community protected.”

Chief Fernando Spagnolo, Waterbury Police

Fernando Spagnolo was sworn in as the 22nd Chief of Police for the Waterbury Police Department back on Dec. 13, 2018, after spending 27 years in the department. During his tenure, he has served in the Patrol Division, Motorcycle Unit, Tactical Narcotics Team, Vice and Intelligence Division, Extra Duty and Licensing and as Aide to the Chief of Police. 

The chief was present for the peaceful beginning of the May 31 protests in Waterbury that eventually included protesters shutting down part of Interstate 84 and the arrest of 28 people when the protests returned to downtown. In a video message on the department’s social media pages, Spagnolo called the beginnings of the protest “wonderful” and said that the incidents later in the day were caused by people not affiliated with the organizers of the protest.

Scot X. Esdaile was elected NAACP State President in November of 2003 and has held the position since then.

Scot X. Esdaile, NAACP State President

Esdaile grew up in New Haven in the 1960’s, so his experience with the state of race in Connecticut comes from that personal experience. Under Esdaile’s leadership, the Connecticut NAACP has led many initiatives in the state, including criminal justice reform and calls for diversity in elections.

Speaking last week about the charges filed against the four former Minneapolis officers in the death of Floyd, Esdaile said, “It’s a shame that we have to go through all this just for them to do the right thing, which they should have done from the start.”

“Police are supposed to protect and serve, but when something like this happens, we have to jump through all these hoops and twists and turns, with riots, burning of buildings and we have to turn the whole country upside down just to get justice.”

Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac University. Brown-Dean is also an accomplished author, publishing “Identity Politics in the United States” after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Dr. Brown-Dean’s work has also been featured in outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, Fox News Radio, Ebony.com and many other print, broadcast and online outlets.

Dr. Khalilah Dean-Brown, Associate Professor, Quinnipiac University

Dr. Brown-Dean also serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, one of the oldest community foundations in the country.

Middletown Town Council Member Ed Ford Jr.

Middletown town Council Member Ed Ford Jr. graduated from Middletown High School in 2015, and two years later became what’s believed to be one of the youngest black Republicans ever elected to public office in the state when he was elected to a four-year term on the board of education.

At the time Ford announced his intention to run for the town’s common council in 2019, he was finishing his final semester at Central Connecticut State University, getting ready to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and political science.

He told the Hartford Courant at the time that he had heard from residents who wanted more done for Middletown’s young people. “A lot of people bring up the issues regarding our youth and spaces for them. We need a place for them. I’m not here to make promises I can’t keep, but I will focus on collaborating and working with folks to find more spaces for youth to express their creative sides,” he told the Courant in 2019.

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