OPED: Healing, Learning and Trust: Working Towards an Inclusive Community

June 17, 2020

My heart and moral conscience are with my African-American friends, neighbors, colleagues and any individual who, based on their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability or orientation, has experienced prejudice, bigotry and isolation throughout their life. I stand with you and will always speak out and fight for you against hate, prejudice and violence. Nobody is perfect in that effort and I still have a lot to learn to better educate myself. We must all try to do better.

 

My sympathies and prayers are with the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and the countless unnamed lives that have been unnecessarily lost or affected due to racist actions based in ignorance, bias, fear and hate.

 

I cannot presume to fathom the myriad of emotions and frustrations that so many African Americans must be experiencing, and I certainly cannot erase the incredible wrongs that have taken place throughout our history – wrongs that have resurrected problems our country has battled since its creation.  I can, however, offer an ear to listen, eyes to see and a strong voice to help move our country in a better direction.  

 

While imperfect, America is a melting pot of people with different cultures and backgrounds that needs to be celebrated, cherished and respected – in its entirety.  I believe in America and when we unite as one, this country can achieve what may seem impossible. 

 

It’s time to stand together and take action to address racism, bias, prejudice and hate in America – not just between institutions like the police and government, but hate and violence expressed by people hiding behind structural facades and political correctness to incite fear and anger for their selfish goals.  We, as a community need to think, engage, challenge and learn from each other.  Not by defined stereotypes and categorization, but by interacting and engaging with each person to celebrate the unique individuals that they are.  We can only make these urgent and fundamental changes by healing, learning and trusting together.

 

We must provide opportunities to educate our communities and a public that may not be fully informed or understand. It will be challenging since these lessons will include real and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. But progress toward trust and understanding must be the goal. Real solutions will not come from reactionary, sweeping, and dangerous generalizations that our public suffers from in the general media.  We all need to collaborate to find solutions to address the foundations of these challenging issues that have led to hate and violence.

 

I am proud to be part of that effort to find solutions. Just last year, I was proud to co-sponsor and stand with the state senate as one of 36 unanimous votes to approve CT Public Act 19-90, which requires the police to release body or dashboard camera video within 96 hours of an incident upon request. This provides a timely check and balance with law enforcement agencies.  These measures are necessary when handling use-of-force incidents and fatalities.  This bill set a new standard by requiring the quick turn around of information to the public. 

 

The bill also prohibits police from shooting at or into fleeing vehicles unless there is an imminent threat of death to another person. The bill also expands the list of incidents to report on to include the use of chokeholds, pursuits or any incident that is likely to cause serious injury. The bill also enacts measures to review and see patterns in law enforcement actions.  The information provided to state authorities would include identifying the race and gender of those involved and how the force was used, and any injuries suffered.

 

More conversations can and must happen on police body cameras for transparency and accountability of law enforcement actions. We need to implement procedures that emphasize empathy, mental health, and de-escalation. Law enforcement culture must be examined and reformed to align with science-based best practices and person-centered judgement of what is right or wrong, not if the person is good or bad. Police staffing needs to be representative of the community which it protects, and that is trained in providing support, making social connections, and recognizing and preventing stereotypic bias. We have begun this important work in Connecticut and we still have much more to do and I am committed to working towards it.

 

We all have a responsibility to bring our community and nation together for a more promising future for everyone.  A future that provides opportunity, justice, protections and free exchange of contrasting ideas for every single American – without excuse or exception.

 

State Senator Tony Hwang represents the 28th Senate District in the Connecticut General Assembly. Hwang is Deputy Minority Senate Leader and the ranking legislative  leader in the Housing Committee, Public Safety and Security Committee and Higher Education & Employment Committee and also serves as a member of the Transportation Committee.  Hwang is the 1st Asian-American elected to CT State Senate since its founding in 1639 and has been involved in elected public service since 2005.