Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont joined other state and local officials Wednesday in denouncing racist acts and pledging systemic reforms, in response to the arrests of two white men accused of chasing down three Black teenagers last month and other incidents around the state.
“We’re going to stand up there in terms of legislation and follow through on what we’ve got to do when it comes to justice,” Lamont, a Democrat, told a crowd of activists and reporters during a news conference in Manchester. “But I’m also here to tell you something else, that you can only do so much with legislation. ... You’ve also got to change the heart. You've got to change the heart and that takes each and every one of you standing up.”
Manchester is where the two white men were arrested. Police said the three juveniles were riding their bikes early in the morning of June 21 when the two men followed them, ran them off the road and nearly hit one of the teens. One of the men yelled racial slurs at the teens, ran after them and stole a bicycle one of them left behind while fleeing.
Brothers Matthew and Michael Lemelin, of Manchester, were charged risk of injury to a minor, reckless endangerment and other crimes. Matthew Lemelin also was charged with a hate crime, intimidation based on bigotry or bias. Both are detained on bail. It's not clear if they have lawyers who could respond to the allegations.
State Rep. Geoff Luxenberg, a Democrat who represents Manchester, said he has asked federal authorities to file federal hate crime charges in the case. He said the incident shook and angered him, and he worried about his children, two of whom are children of color.
“I was angry as a father,” he said. “I went home. I didn’t know what to say to my children. I did not know how to explain it’s a different world they were living in right here in Manchester miles from where we live.”
The incident was one of at least seven possible hate crimes around the state that police have investigated since June 1, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said.
In an confrontation in Stamford last month recorded on video, a white man called police on a group of Black and Hispanic men at a marina, wrongly told police they were harassing him and said "white lives matter too.” The group also accused the man of spraying an irritating chemical at them. Police said they are investigating. No arrests have been announced.
The deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other Black men and women at the hands of police have sparked protests nationwide calling for reforms.
Tracy Patterson, a member of the Manchester Board of Education, said frequent images of violence against African Americans have hurt and upset her, and she worries about her children growing up in such an environment. She said she will not stop being active in civil rights causes.
“We’re going to dismantle the system of racism and oppression so that racist behavior, biases and unfair treatment of Black and brown people is no longer tolerated,” she said. “I am here and I will not stop and I won’t give up because those that fought hard for our civil rights were beaten, sprayed, jailed and Maced. And right now our civil rights are being violated right in front of our faces on TV and social media.”
Lawmakers at the news conference said they will be addressing systemic racism including police reforms at a special legislative session planned for later this month.
State Rep. Jason Rojas, a Democrat who represents Manchester and East Hartford, expressed frustration that people of color continue in 2020 to deal with educational inequality, a lack of jobs in urban areas, police brutality and segregation.
“We cannot afford to take 100 years to dismantle the systemic racist institutions that exist in this country,” he said. “And its going to take a lot of political power beyond those who actually hold it. It’s all of you who hold all the power and you need to hold us accountable.”
State Senate Democrats last month proposed a multitude of legislative proposals aimed at addressing systemic racial inequities, including wide-ranging police reforms and efforts to improve economic, educational and housing opportunities for racial minorities.