On June 1, a week after the murder of George Floyd, the city of Waterbury had a “community conversation about current events” online. On this call were federal, state, and local leaders were present. I was incredibly optimistic that change was coming as a result of the protest, but then the call continued.
Besides the last five minutes of the meeting, the rest of the hour and 30 minute meeting was made up of introductions. No legitimate dialogue was had. A few political leaders had taken it upon themselves to live stream independently after the call, but the vast majority did not.
As this meeting would take place a day after the arrest of 28 civilians by police for peaceful assembly, many were looking for answers. What gave the police the right to prohibit their exercise of the First Amendment in such trying times? The comment section of the online event was also disabled. The disingenuous nature of such an exchange should shock you. The call did not address the events that occurred over the weekend or the past week in any depth.
As a reminder, police department lined downtown streets in full tactical gear, with police vans, and canines as protesters disrupted civil society in order to bring attention to the death of Black Americans. Here I want to acknowledge that the institutions in place do disproportionately affect many minority communities, but the protests are focusing on the historical brutality against black persons.
The city and state governments were fully aware protests would occur on Sunday, and it was evident they came prepared to intimidate. Some local media has labeled those arrested “opportunists”— but what did they hope to gain? A voice? Over the weekend police and local officials reaffirmed “I hear you” but they did not. The entire exchange (both the arrests and “conversation”) undermine the efficiency of peaceful protests if all that is provided are empty words.
Once again it is assumed just because individuals are arrested that they deserved to be. A majority white male police force, in full gear, arrested civilians for disrupting traffic. From information released and video footage, it seems that the protesters did not riot. What are these individuals being charged with and are the cops that arrested them also being investigated? The fact of the matter is that the city did not provide the transparency that is essential to ending police brutality.
Rather, local leaders have repeatedly antagonized those arrested by excessively differentiating them from a group of “peaceful” protesters that marched earlier that day. They did not provide sufficient reason for the use of force or acknowledgment of their message. This diverts from the main issue, even if they were part of an alternate group of protesters, it does not matter. Were the arrests of these individuals justified? Note, I am not asking for the vilification of police but rather an insight into the factors that played into their decision. It is ultimately up to the black community (and other affected communities) to decide how valid those factors were.
The school-to-prison pipeline, the militarization of police departments, racial profiling in low-income neighborhoods, and the complicity of nonviolent police officers are topics that have been ignored for far too long in Waterbury. I do not want to repeat the cycle of outrage. In fact, nationwide, complacency with the system should end here. That includes the small state of Connecticut which is not exempt from a rather ugly history of slavery, segregation, and brutality against communities of color.
I acknowledge that in the community conversation that took place over a dozen leaders spoke their piece and perspective, unfortunately, they only took one call. Frankly, future conversations do not look promising. We needed them to hear from the community now.
Note: This critique is of organizers of the “community conversation” and political leaders, not the various community activists who also took part in the event.
Fizza Alam lives in Waterbury.