GOP Big: Urban Justice Reformers “Make Sense” [New Haven Independent]

April 17, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New Haven Independent
Connecticut’s most powerful Republican politician came to New Haven to praise Republican-bashers, not bury them.

The politician, North Haven State Sen. Len Fasano, slipped into a spectator seat in City Hall’s Aldermanic Chambers as eight panelists decried police misconduct and the mass incarceration of black and Latino urbandwellers. Fueled by a new report documenting police profiling throughout the state, panelists proposed reforms. New Haven State Sen. Gary Winfield described his battles with suburban Capitol lawmakers to acknowledge, let along address, the black community’s loss of faith in policing. The same day as this forum, Winfield said as Fasano took a seat, Republicans at the Capitol had prevented a legislative committee from advancing bills to protect the rights of citizens who photograph police and to require independent investigations of fatal shootings by police.

They just don’t get it, Winfield complained, to the assent of his fellow panelists and many in the crowd.

As the State Senate minority leader, Fasano directs the Republicans’ handling of bills like those.

He agreed to take the mic to respond to Winfield—not by disagreeing, but by calling for a new relationship between his suburban-dominated state party and urban advocates of criminal-justice reform.

His remarks dovetailed with an effort by his team in Hartford to offer a new approach to urban issues in general—participating in the quest for solutions rather than blaming the cities or ignoring them. Earlier this session they released a Republican plan for urban revival.

Addressing the panel at the New Haven City Hall event, which took place Monday evening, Fasano said he supports one of the solutions discussed: outfitting cops with body cameras.

“I applaud the results” of the profiling study, Fasano said, agreeing it calls for a legislative response. He mentioned that he has read The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked The American Dream, a book coauthored by one of the panelists, Rev. Marilyn Kendrix of the Malta Justice Imperative. He threw in support for the general idea behind the philosophy of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Second-Chance Society” initiative.

Fasano avoided promising to help pass any specific bills.

He was pressed on one of Winfield’s top-priority measures: to require an independent investigation any time an officer kills somebody. (Under the bill, that “independent” investigator can be the state’s attorney’s office, which works closely with cops on a daily basis.)
Correctly or not, many people believe that “when it’s the cop versus the public, the cop gets the nod,” Winfield continued. He argued that an independent investigation could help overcome that perception.

Fasano … agreed.

In concept.

The idea behind the bill “has some merit,” he said. “It should be looked at. An independent investigation takes the bias out.”

Before committing himself on the specific bill, he wants to learn more about the “full interplay between police and the state’s attorney’s office. … But I understand the point and the point is well taken.”

He even declared himself open to considering a Winfield proposal generally considered anathema by Republicans—to abolish “drug-free zone” laws that, because of geography, basically turn entire cities into such zones and therefore end up locking up urban drug-dealers longer than suburban drug-dealers.

Fasano spoke more broadly—to the room, and to the state. The event—organized by the Connecticut African-American Affairs Commission—was being recorded for future airing by CT-N, Connecticut’s version of C-Span. (CT-N provided the video clip at the top of this story.)

Republicans have to engage cities on issues like these, he said.

“At times at the Capitol there’s this feeling that there’s one group of legislators … and another,” Fasano said. “Sometimes there’s this belief that the two can’t intermingle and share ideas. …. I think there has to be a lot more conversations.”

After the forum, Fasano elaborated.

“We need to change,” he said of his party, which routinely gets clobbered by Democrats among black and Latino and urban voters.

“We need to have a broader appeal. And I do believe the cities are our future. If we can figure out a way to help those in the cities to be more productive—and that means being realistic about the influences that negatively impact the city—then, we’ll have a stronger state, because the city will become less reliant upon the state.”