I’m Determined To Achieve a More Perfect Union

June 11, 2020
I have learned that when it comes to politics, knee jerk reactions can be dangerous. We need to examine both the intentions of those driving the debate and the true and long term impact of the solutions they offer.  Politicians are driven by pleasing people, and sometimes in their haste to do so, they fail to examine issues thoughtfully.  I am not in favor of passing bad laws in a quest to “do something.”

My interest and inspiration to be involved in making policy for my community and to ultimately become a State Senator is a result of my love of American history, and of the foundational principle of this great country: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Of course, America was born with a terrible and immoral birth defect – slavery.  The scars are stubborn and refuse to heal, because of the reality that racism still exists in our country (and sadly may never be fully eradicated) and because there are those that continue to pick at the scab for the purpose of creating more division.

When I was a teenager, I began learning about the Civil War and more specifically Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.  Abraham Lincoln was elected as the very first Republican President of the United States, standard-bearer of a party created with the goal of abolishing slavery.  This became Lincoln’s main focus as President, as part of his larger vision – to have our country live up to the sentence quoted above, that opens our Declaration of Independence and forms the foundation of what we are as a nation.

Thankfully, Lincoln and Grant were victorious, and slavery was indeed abolished.  However, the work of making a “more perfect union” remains unfinished.  We must continue to work to make sure all people are indeed recognized as equals.  I serve as our State Senator to work towards that goal, and I feel a special connection to Lincoln and our history even in writing to you on this subject.

I share all of this to let you, the reader, know where I am coming from. I hear your concerns and do not take my position and responsibility to answer you lightly.

Foremost, I condemn racism as pure ignorance.  No thinking person believes they can judge another’s character, intelligence, worth, or any other quality based on something as superficial as skin color.  Martin Luther King Jr. taught that we should be judged by merit and action, not by superficial qualities like race.  His dream, like that of Lincoln and our founders, was for us to achieve our full potential as a people and a nation.

In addition, I condemn criminal violence no matter by whom or for what purpose it is committed.  This is particularly egregious when someone in a position of authority and trust commits the act.  Police officers should be held to the highest standard; those who use their position to harm others must be made an example of.

Rioting and looting is also wrong. There is no excuse for the destruction of property, and none should be made for those who engage in criminal and counterproductive acts.  Thankfully, we have not seen this happen in our state.

I also hear your call for police reform, but I have to point out that what happened in Minneapolis does not reflect the district I represent or the fine police officers who serve in the towns of the 16th district.  I stand by them and am confident that any type of police brutality or abuse would not be tolerated by any of our departments.  No police department is perfect, but I know the level of professionalism that each of these officers strives for.

I have a long and consistent record of demanding transparency and accountability at all levels of government.  I also believe that all laws should apply to every single individual the same way.  For race or status to influence the judgment of a court is an intolerable violation of American principle.

There should also be no special protections for law enforcement officers.  I have repeatedly and consistently advocated that public sector union contracts must be subject to Freedom of Information Laws and that secret agreements that hide the truth from the public must be abolished.  Sadly, many of the same people coming forward now to demand this accountability are the same ones who have blocked my efforts in the past.

We must also remember that all people in our society are innocent until proven guilty and that no matter how egregious a crime is, everyone deserves their day in court and a proper defense.  I am fearful that in a rush to judgement, laws that protect due process may be weakened.  This would be unfortunate since those protections are especially important to members of the minority community.

Here in Connecticut, there has been a steady modernization of statutes regarding law enforcement.  I have been a strong advocate of police body cameras since they were first introduced.  They protect both the officer and the public by shining a light on each interaction.  I will continue to advocate for their use in all 169 towns in our state.

Just last year, Republicans and Democrats in the State Senate worked together to develop and pass significant police accountability and public safety reforms in Public Act 19-90, which was passed with unanimous support in the Senate. This new law included the following provisions:

1.    Requires police to release any body or dash camera video of incidents timely.

2.    Adds the use of chokeholds and pursuits to the list of incidents police must report, in addition to any incident that is likely to cause serious injury. These reports also must include a summary of the race and gender of those involved and how the force was used, and any injuries suffered.

3.    Prohibits police from shooting at or into fleeing vehicles unless there is an imminent threat of death to another person, and prohibits police from positioning themselves in front of a fleeing motor vehicle

4.    Requires that police must notify other agencies when they chase a car across city lines.

5.    Establishes the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to study and review the use of firearms by officers engaged in pursuits.

I believe we have done a good job in Connecticut in establishing a system of laws that protects our communities and promotes positive reactions between officers and citizens – the way it should work.

Of course, there can always be improvements and I look forward to debating and voting on them when the time comes.

The proposals to “defund the police” as well as demands for bail reform that amount to no bail at all are unproductive and irresponsible.  The result would be more crime and less safety, exactly the opposite of what we should be working towards.

I heard someone say, “we can do better.”  Indeed, we all can be better in the way we treat our fellow human beings, and in the way we speak to one another, simply by offering respect to everyone, particularly those we disagree with. It is a small person who resorts to name calling (or even worse) when they encounter a different viewpoint.  I encourage us all to listen and remember the Golden Rule – “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

There are those who will continue to drive a wedge between us as neighbors and citizens, including some that will take issue with this statement, despite my genuine desire to unite us.

There are also those who wish to divide us by race, by gender, by income—by any means possible, to perpetuate anger and violence.  Good people who have come out to stand against racism and police brutality and to march in protest of what happened in Minneapolis have been booed and shamed because they refused to kneel or, heaven forbid, mentioned that “every life is precious.”  How does that make sense?

I beg anyone reading this who wants an end to racism and police brutality to condemn that behavior.  We can indeed be better.  It starts with thinking for ourselves and treating others with kindness.  Black lives matter – and so do all other lives.  If you do not believe that, then you are not interested in fighting racism.

I am genuinely concerned about the political operators using an honest outpouring of good will between citizens to advance their agenda. However,  I remain hopeful that the solutions ultimately offered will be prudent and based in the desire for good policy that promotes what should be our common vision of a society united by the goal of a better quality of life for every person.

Most sincerely,

State Senator Rob Sampson