What’s worse than actual systemic racism? If you’re a Connecticut legislator, pointing out the racial implications of a law is a far worse crime — deserving of actually shutting down half of the legislature for a few hours.
House Minority leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, is furious at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy over comments published in the Connecticut Post about opposition to his “Second Chance Society” sentencing reform proposals.
“Being called racist goes so far below what any governor should do because we don’t agree with his ideas,” Klarides fumed. “He’s trying to make like, because we don’t agree with him, we’re bad people. It’s shameful. It’s vile.”
She wasn’t the only one. Many House Republicans and Democrats were also outraged. Democratic Speaker Brendan Sharkey said that “ascribing motives to people on opposite sides of the issue is not productive or helpful,” and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz condemned “injecting racism” into the debate over the bill.
Based on that I would assume Malloy swaggered up to the cameras, pulled out a picture of Klarides and other Republicans photoshopped to look like they’re dressed in Klan robes, and exclaimed that “Republicans and anyone else who opposes my bill are literally Hitler!”
What he actually said was about proposed changes to the Drug Free Zone law, which disproportionately affects people living in densely-populated urban areas. “To treat those folks differently because they live in those communities is patently unfair and if not racist in intent, is racist in its outcome,” he said.
That’s what provoked this mass hysteria and accusations of race-baiting: not any actual racist acts, not the actual systemic discrimination that poor people of color living in urban areas face, but the merest insinuation that there is a racially biased outcome to a law that was not originally racist in intent.
It says a lot more about the people getting upset than it does about Malloy.
What the Drug Free Zone law does is mandate extended prison time for anyone caught possessing drugs within 1,500 feet of a school, day care, or public housing project. Almost the entire land area of cities like New Haven are within these zones, and because in the northeast people of color are more likely to live in cities, they are disproportionately affected by it. The end result is more people of color in prison. It’s no wonder the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus has been trying to change this law for a long time.
These are facts. And yet, there’s a huge fight and hurt feelings all over the place. Why?
There’s two driving forces behind this, and neither have much to do with sentencing reform.
This is partly about Malloy being completely unable to say anything without making a mess. Malloy is a blunt, abrupt, and prickly sort of person, and he rarely thinks to pull his punches, use tact, or be diplomatic. He doesn’t have a lot of friends in the legislature on either side of the aisle these days, and he likely could have put things better.
But really this is about the racial anxieties of white people in 2015 America. Nothing stirs up my people like being accused of being racist.
See, we’re taught from the time we’re little that being a racist is a terrible thing, much like being a Nazi. We’re also taught that racism is largely in the past, and that we bear little to no responsibility for it. It’s not a comfortable thing to realize that we still benefit from a system that oppresses other people, so we make talking about it taboo. For example, when a black Republican campaign consultant accused an opposing white candidate of “white privilege,” a very mild thing to say indeed, she found herself fired.
When even the barest whiff of allegations of racism, whether conscious or unconscious, comes up, we get defensive, upset, and angry.
We need to stop that. There are huge problems with race in this country, and if we ever want to try and fix them, we need to first admit that they exist. We can’t be afraid to talk honestly about race, even when it makes us uncomfortable.
So let’s admit that the Drug Free Zone law, as it currently exists, has racist outcomes and that it should be fixed. We don’t have to use Gov. Malloy’s plan, but we must do something.
“When you have a disparate impact, and it’s racial in nature, and you don’t correct it, there’s something wrong,” Malloy said in defense of his comments, and for once, he’s absolutely right.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.