I used to attend protests against police misconduct regularly. The fact that I can say that sentence points to the predictability of people armed and empowered to use violence by the state using that violence in corrupt and abusive ways. I stopped in 2018, when a march I attended moved from Albany Avenue to the Hartford Public Safety Complex on High Street. While most of us stood in the parking lot chanting, a few protesters stepped forward and started banging on the glass. They were demanding that the police chief come out and speak to them. No thanks, I said; if the police came out swinging because of the other protesters banging on the window, it was my Black ass that was going to get clubbed.
The brutal murder of George Floyd in 2020 brought me back out into the streets. While his death was the initial impetus of me and my friends marching, the numerous examples of police brutality in response to those protests kept us going back. Every day there seemed to be another example of excessive force against peaceful protesters. The police couldn’t be on their best behavior even when the entire world was watching.
In response to the police’s brazen use of force, politicians across the country promised that things would change. Connecticut’s lawmakers also pledged to make police more accountable. In 2020, the state passed a police accountability law which made some changes to qualified immunity as well as instituted independent review of deadly force changes. I was hopeful about the possibility of real change in the way that police operated. The bill wasn’t the end of what needed to change, but it was a good beginning.
In the two years since, much of that hope has been dashed. At the federal level, the police reform legislation named for Floyd failed to pass Congress. Police killings slightly increased in 2021 compared to years prior. And despite calls for defunding the police from activists and organizations, police budgets have largely increased since the summer of 2020.
Hartford is a prime example of the funding trend. In the immediate aftermath of the summer protests, the Hartford City Council cut $1 million from the city’s police budget, and reallocated another $1 million for training initiatives. These cuts were far less than the $9.6 million proposed by the Working Families Party, but again, it looked like a step in the right direction.
Those funding cuts have all but evaporated. The very next year, the city budget increased law enforcement’s allocation from $44.9 million to $48.3 million– a number that was higher than the 2020 budget before the cuts. Proponents say that the increase is to retain officers who are being hired away from the city by departments who offer higher pay and better benefits. Whatever the reason, the increase shows that there was no long-term commitment to altering police budgets in the city.
And to drive the point home, Governor Ned Lamont declared that he wants more police patrolling the streets of Connecticut during his State of the State address. He boasted about how the ten largest municipalities “are training and hiring nearly 400 new cops in the next two years.”
Whatever limited political will there was for true police reform after Floyd’s shocking murder has dissipated. We’re left with the pre-2020 status quo of constantly expanding police budgets and tough-on-crime sloganeering during election years. Seeing this outcome after the largest protest movement in American history is especially disheartening, because it feels like I and 20 million people were shouting into a void. Still, it may be necessary to take to the streets once again, to make sure that our political leaders hear us loud and clear. Policing must change — not just for a moment, but for the long term.
Jamil Ragland is a writer from the Hartford area. His work deals with politics, race and culture. Jamil lives in Hartford with his son.