Letter to the editor submitted by Sean Goldrick, Riverside. Goldrick served two terms on the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation
We would ‘t be surprised if Mississippi Republicans openly supported racial profiling, but it’s jarring to hear it advocated in Connecticut. Yet Connecticut GOP state senate candidate Ryan Fazio and state representative candidate Kimberly Fiorello have come out unequivocally in support of maintaining racial profiling.
Fiorello (149th district- Back Country Greenwich, western and northern Stamford) wrote: “One of the most ill-thought-out consequences of this bill is that it prohibits consent searches of individuals and limits searches of motor vehicles stopped solely for motor vehicle violations.”
Fazio (36th district- Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan), calling this civil rights legislation a “radical de-policing bill,” tweeted that it, “bars officers from doing searches with the consent of motorists stopped for a traffic violation,” which, he bizarrely claims, “makes life more dangerous for families.”
They’re referring to Section 21 of Connecticut’s Police Accountability Act. The ACLU of Connecticut explains this “means that police who stop cars for motor vehicle violations do not get to search the car, even if the driver consents, unless there is probable cause that a crime was committed.” The aim is to “put an end to stop-and-frisk searches which police frequently make on a lower standard of suspicion than probable cause…Stop-and-frisk searches..result in police abuses, with physical force used in almost 25% of stops in some states.”
Indeed, the ACLU points out, “People have spent years telling the Connecticut General Assembly that police violence and racism exist in Connecticut, have gone unchecked, and that families harmed by police are denied justice and redress.”
The Stanford Open Policing Project’s 2019 report, which analyzed data on nearly 100 million police traffic stops across the country, including Connecticut, concluded that “police stopped and searched Black and Latino drivers on the basis of less evidence than used in stopping white drivers, who are searched less often but are more likely to be found with illegal items.” Moreover, a 2015 study by The Washington Post found that, “blacks accounted for a disproportionate share of traffic-stop deaths.”
The Connecticut Racial Profiling Report issued in May concluded that 29 police departments stopped a higher percentage of minority drivers than the state average, including 15 that exceeded the statewide average by more than 10 percentage points.
Those police departments included Darien, Trumbull, Fairfield, Wilton, West Hartford, and Wethersfield. While Blacks and Hispanics of driving age comprised just 7% of Darien’s population, over 36% of all drivers stopped by Darien police were minorities. In Trumbull 40% of all traffic stops were of Blacks and Hispanics, though they totaled just 12% of the population.
State Police Troop K, which patrols more than a dozen towns, including Colchester, Portland, East Haddam, and Lebanon, also stopped minorities at a disparate rate. Though only Troop K was singled out for disparate stops of minorities, the report concluded that, “it warrants concern that the Connecticut State Police have appeared each year as having a statistically significant disparity in either or both of minority traffic stops and vehicular searches.”
Fiorello claims that these searches are justified, based on a few anecdotal examples. The facts, however, prove otherwise. The Connecticut Racial Profiling Report reveals that though Caucasian drivers were much less likely to have their vehicles searched by police, they were statistically much more likely to possess contraband than Black and Hispanic drivers. For example, New Haven police found contraband in over half of the searches of non-Hispanic Caucasian drivers, but just 21% of Black drivers, and 42% of Hispanic drivers.
The report also revealed that 60 of the Connecticut’s 94 municipal police departments exceeded the state average in making so-called “pretext” stops, which, “though a possible violation of state law, leave the police officer with considerable discretion with respect to actually making the stop.” African-Americans have for decades decried being stopped on pretexts that result in unnecessary and humiliating searches. Indeed, violence against Black motorists at traffic stops is so prevalent that the Stamford Chapter of the NAACP posts a video on its website titled “10 Steps to Survival,” which lists the things a Black motorist should do, and not do, in order survive a traffic stop.
Fiorello claims that, “Consent searches are constitutional and have been determined to be lawful by thousands of Appellate and trial level courts…” Fiorello doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, that those court decisions legalizing racial profiling in traffic stops constitute foundation stones of institutional racism. And institutional racism is precisely what the police accountability bill attempts to eliminate.
In addition to Fiorello and Fazio, GOP state representative Harry Arora voted against eliminating racial profiling, and Republican state representative candidate Joe Kelly has taken the same position.
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Connecticut Democrats who passed this civil rights bill bent that moral arc towards justice.
Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor in support of local candidates in the Nov 3, 2020 election may be submitted to [email protected] for consideration beginning July 15 and with a hard deadline of Oct 26, 2020 at noon.