It’s been a rough month for the cops in Connecticut. Three separate incidents involving four separate police departments prompted outrage and protests. Two were police-involved shootings, one of which was fatal, and the third was the arrest of a journalist covering a protest.
Each of these incidents has disturbing elements. Taken together, though, and in light of other stories involving the police from around the country, they highlight the ever-increasing need for police reform.
Here’s what happened. In mid-April, an officer from Hamden and another from Yale University opened fire on a stopped car in New Haven, injuring an unarmed black woman who was in the passenger seat. Thankfully, her injuries were not life-threatening, but there was an immediate response from the community. Why was a Hamden police officer in New Haven without informing the city police? Why was a Yale officer involved? Why did they shoot at the car? It’s clear from surveillance footage that the Hamden officer panicked, but what set him off? There was no gun in the car, and according to state police the only thing the driver did wrong was getting out of his car in an “abrupt” manner.
I guess being slightly annoyed that the police stopped you for no reason earns you a hail of bullets. It’s just a relief that no one was killed.
If only the same could be said of an incident in Wethersfield.
On April 20, Wethersfield police officer Layau Eulizier attempted to pull over 18-year-old Anthony “Chulo” Vega Cruz. It went badly, and Vega Cruz tried to make a run for it. Video captured at the scene seems to show that while Vega Cruz was attempting to turn his car around and escape, Eulizier jumped in front of his car and shot him twice through the windshield. The teenager later died of his injuries.
Trying to flee a traffic stop is not a good decision, but it’s not one that should get you killed.
The video of the incident is disturbing and infuriating, and it’s made even more so because this officer apparently had a history of overreacting, stressing out, and getting aggressive during traffic stops during his time with the Manchester police. Family, friends, and residents of Wethersfield and Hartford have been demanding justice, and the state is continuing to investigate.
And then there’s the third incident, which happened while Hearst CT reporter Tara O’Neill was covering a protest in Bridgeport. At one point the police advanced on the protestors, trying to clear them out of the street. O’Neill was on the sidewalk and, despite identifying herself as a reporter, was arrested, handcuffed, and briefly detained.
That’s bad enough, but what makes it worse is that O’Neill was well-known to Bridgeport police because, as Hearst CT vice president of news and digital content Matt DeRienzo told the Hartford Courant, she had been “relentless in covering misconduct and coverup” in that department. O’Neill’s arrest made national news. Covering a protest is the farthest thing from a crime, and no police officer should ever interfere with a reporter doing her job.
It may not be a coincidence that the protest O’Neill was covering was commemorating the two-year anniversary of the shooting of Jayson Negron, 15, by police.
So what do we do about this? I don’t even know if it’s possible to talk about police abuses and reform without wading directly into the rotten, messy heart of the country’s political and cultural divide.
Supporting the police has been co-opted by right-wing extremists, to the extent that the “thin blue line” police flag, which is a black-and-white American flag with a blue stripe standing in for one of the white ones, was flown by white supremacists in Charlottesville.
On the opposite side, anyone who wants to see the police become less militaristic, less violent, and more accountable immediately gets branded as a hopeless leftist, lumped in with strident keyboard communists and anarchists. Neither side trusts the other, and so calls by Black Lives Matter activists and others for police reform often get dismissed.
And yet, reform has to happen. Body cameras and better training are good starts, but departments need to have zero tolerance for officers who abuse their positions. Police unions need to get on board and stop protecting individuals who have no place on the force. And if that doesn’t work, then legislators and voters can’t be afraid to demand more.
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.