Connecticut prides itself being a progressive state. One peek into the Criminal Justice and Correctional system tells a story in contrast. It tells a story of deeply embedded structural and institutional racial disparity within every state organization. Although Connecticut is over 72% white every system that negatively impacts Connecticut society is predominantly Black and brown. Clearly in Connecticut the arc of the moral universe is slow to bend toward justice.
When a deeply tragic incident stole the lives of three Cheshire residents, justice was swift. Immediate arrests were made, laws were passed with deliberate speed within one legislative session and parole policies were immediately changed, disrupting the lives of many who had been successfully transitioning back into their communities. Many found themselves hauled back into prisons without legal challenge.
Mubaruk Soulemane was killed by police last year, and despite a change in State’s Attorney and the subsequent passage of a Police Accountability bill, his grieving family is still waiting for justice.
The 50-year-old war on drugs aggressively and selectively waged in Black and brown communities rages on with no end in sight while the government creatively seeks investment in revenue sharing from legalizing recreational marijuana. At the same time, thousands remain incarcerated for doing that very same thing and wait to see if they will be released from prison.
Black and brown people wait to see if money saved from prison closures will be reinvested in their communities since the selectively enforced war on drugs disproportionately disrupted their lives. Activists, for example, fought for decades to rescind the 1,500-foot drug free zone policy that undeniably discriminates against people in urban centers, enhancing any sentence they receive for violating drug policy. The wait for justice continues.
Activists in Connecticut have fought for years to end state sanctioned torture that occurs behind the cement walls of Northern C.I. where almost 90% of those held in isolation are Black and brown people. It took years of struggle to finally hear the words, “Northern is closing.” People remaining inside suffer on a daily basis yet have to wait until July for the torture to end. Once Northern closes I’m certain we will have to wait to see it demolished, making it a part of Connecticut’s ugly history.
Very early in the legislative session, Stop Solitary CT presented the Judiciary Committee with the Protect Act, a proposal to end solitary confinement among other practices. We initially sought to end it in 2017 legislative session, yet what we got was so watered down it barely scratched the surface of what needed to be done. We are hopeful this time will be different.
Other states have already ended this abuse in their prisons. Why, if Connecticut prides itself in being so progressive and a frontrunner for justice, why are we having to fight so hard and so long for Corrections to respect the human dignity of those held in their custody? It’s time we ask ourselves why the arc of universal morality takes so long to bend toward justice for Black and brown people. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Earlier this session, State Sen. Rick Lopes proposed a bill (SB773) to end the shameful practice of charging people for their incarceration. We know who is disproportionately paying this price, and so it did not go forth for a vote, and so once again, Black and brown will have to wait for justice. Maybe next session.
I have a novel idea. How about legislators devote an entire session exclusively to undoing policies rooted in racism. It may take a few sessions since much of America’s social policy is rooted in racism and codified into law. When they do this work, we can end the overused narrative that undeniable system-wide racial disparities are unintentional consequences.
Barbara Fair lives in West Haven.