A New Haven state senator joined with one of the state’s U.S. senators Monday to pump Connecticut’s “Juneteenth Agenda” to address police accountability and systemic racism.
State Sen. Gary Winfield and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy did that in a conversation streamed via Facebook Live. They were joined by Hartford State Rep. Brandon McGee. The panelists discussed the Juneteenth Agenda — which Winfield, as Judiciary Committee co-chair, aims to shepherd through an upcoming special session of the state legislature — and barriers to change in Connecticut. They also fielded live questions from an audience of over 200 viewers.
The Juneteenth Agenda, named after the holiday that celebrates the freeing of the last slaves in the country on June 19th, 1865, is a far-reaching list of policy objectives that aim to address police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd and many others, as well as address underlying systemic issues that contribute to racist outcomes.
The list of proposed reforms is extensive, ranging from banning chokeholds, limiting officers’ immunity from misconduct suits, and requiring police body cameras; to changing school curricula to include African-American and Native-American histories, investing in affordable housing, and supporting minority-owned businesses. The agenda also seeks to address racial health inequities revealed and deepened by the Covid pandemic, as well as to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. (Read more about the agenda here.)
Murphy, Winfield, and McGee all expressed their support for the wide-ranging scope of the agenda, and for its speedy implementation. McGee said police accountability reform is only part of addressing the “roots” of systemic racism: “We must also address the underlying inequities legitimized by many of the laws we have on the books.”
Murphy brought up further evidence of system-level racism across the state, referencing a CT Mirror article about exclusionary zoning and a lack of affordable housing in Weston. Murphy also mentioned a lack of minority representation among police officers statewide, as well as the assignment of officers in schools. “It’s a no-brainer,” said Murphy, regarding removing school resource officers.
In response to audience questions, the panelists acknowledged the rise of highly segregated schools, in which student bodies are at least 80 percent white, as well as the unequal impact of the pandemic felt by minority communities, as other outcomes of systemic racism. According to Murphy, the number of highly segregated schools in the state have nearly doubled in the last 15 years.
McGee called for speedy and “robust” change through state legislation, but acknowledged that not everyone is “kumbaya, let’s change the world” regarding structural change.
Winfield similarly referred to 2017 legislation regarding affordable housing reform and a 2018 bill regarding transparency and desegregation, both of which did not pass. “If people are serious about this, it will be reflected in policy” this year, he said
In response to viewers’ questions, the panelists clarified that the Juneteenth Agenda, a state-level reform plan, is different from the Justice in Policing Act, a federal bill. Murphy emphasized that though the federal bill can incentivize state and local governments to change, the most concrete reforms happen in the state legislature.
The Juneteenth Agenda will inform State Democrats’ legislation proposals, to be addressed at a Special Session of the General Assembly in the month of July. Said Murphy: “We’ve been talking about this for 20 years. It’s just a question of political will.”