State Sen. Tony Hwang: We have to work together to solve issues related to police reform in CT
Our nation, and our state, must implement necessary police accountability and social justice reforms. The George Floyd criminal murder brought our entire country’s attention to systemic problems that exist in our society that have long been unaddressed. We must raise awareness, and more than that, changes to current policies are important and necessary. These changes must be made with all voices at the table, with careful consideration for how the laws will be implemented, and with our eyes open to unintended consequences that could move us further away from our goal to achieve justice, equality and safety for all people.
I cannot presume to fathom the myriad of emotions, fear and frustrations that so many Black Americans must experience and endure, 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 voice to help move our country in a better direction. I believe in America and when we unite as one, this country can achieve what may seem impossible. Change is necessary but we can only make these urgent and fundamental changes by learning and trusting together.
That is why I am so concerned about the process that has led us to House Bill 6004. In these unprecedented times, the legislature is using new but untested methods to gather input and hastily written legislative language to affect some major changes to Connecticut state law on police reform and accountability. I agree there is a need to act and many elements of the bill are good, strong proposals. But rushing legislation does not do justice to the level of attention this issue requires. Real solutions will not come from reactionary, sweeping and dangerous generalizations. We all need to collaborate to find lasting and effective solutions which address the foundations of these challenging issues.
I hoped we would apply that legislative thinking and process in addressing police accountability and reform. Unfortunately, HB 6004 does not achieve the goals we all set out to reach. Between my analysis and conversations with affected stakeholders and the debate in the House and Senate, the hastily pushed approval of the police accountability bill may create sweeping, unintended consequences. These consequences will negatively affect public safety and diminish our law enforcement’s effectiveness. We need to be able to hold bad actors accountable and encourage recruitment of good officers. But this bill will hurt good officers, damage recruitment efforts, and will put unworkable burdens on good officers and towns and cities, hurting the poorest communities most. Every person needs to feel safe and protected in Connecticut, but I believe that this bill, as currently written, moves us further from that goal.
Newtown’s former First Selectwoman Pat Llodra, whose leadership and guidance were inspirational and comforting during the Sandy Hook tragedy, gave me some of the best advice years ago that public officials should not make policy decisions based on emotional highs and lows. Policy needs to be evaluated with transparency and in-depth analysis to reach the best public policy that is sustainable and legal. The legislature respectfully and thoroughly vetted the landmark gun bill during the 2013 regular session, giving lawmakers and all stakeholders an opportunity to participate and offer public and expert commentary, to thoroughly deliberate and finalize a bipartisan public policy for Connecticut. We need to learn from that process.
On Wednesday, I voted “no” on the proposed bill. I passionately believe we need positive changes to our current policing policies. I ask the entire General Assembly and Gov. Ned Lamont to give the police reform bill the necessary time and breadth of discussion to consider its impact on every person and shareholder. Neither the discomfort and complicated logistics of legislative work during this pandemic nor the emotional weight of this issue should control the legislative process. We should not pass a bill that has a long list of grave concerns regarding legal and constitutional issues. I urge my colleagues to reevaluate the passage of an important bill that, at its current language, does not achieve the goals we all share.
State Sen. Tony Hwang represents the 28th Senate District in the Connecticut General Assembly which includes Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston and Westport. Hwang is Deputy Minority Senate Leader and ranking legislative leader on the Public Safety and Security Committee and Higher Education and Employment Committees and serves as a member of the Transportation Committee.