HARTFORD, Conn — As the killing of George Floyd sparked protests across the country, a racially motivated hate crime in Manchester is sparking conversations for change across our state.
"We need a President of the United States who will also stand up. We need a President of the United States… " Governor Lamont said in a passionate speech during a press conference denouncing racism. "My God, sometimes I think he’s willing to stand up for those Confederate Statues, but wouldn’t lose any sleep if the Statue of Liberty was knocked off her pedestal. We need people to stand up. We need people to understand what makes this country great. We need to stand up each and every day for justice and decency and respect. Believe me ,we’re going to do everything we can as government officials to make sure we know we hear your voice. But we can’t get anything done unless we change the heart."
Governor Lamont, together with elected officials, saying they will take action to change laws that have an adverse effect on black people.
"Yes, we're standing united to denounce those incidents. But what's next? What are we gonna do to tear down the white supremacist part of our culture?" asks Representative Geoff Luxembourg. "What are we gonna do to tear down the racism, the inequality, and the pain that we've experienced in this community for far too long. That's our challenge as elected officials. We can stand here at a press conference and talk. But what are we gonna do to take action on the policies that are gonna make a difference for this community?"
State leaders implored people to get out and vote for change and to be active members of the political process.
"Then you have people in seats making laws saying, 'Okay I hear you', and in my position, I can write a law about that," says Manchester Board of Directors Pamela Floyd-Cranford. "And in my position, I have the Mayor [and] our Board of Directors who support this. So, we need you. We are following your lead even though we are your leaders."
Democratic leaders say they are making laws surrounding racial equality part of the special legislative session.
"The way I look at it is that we are worried about the statues, I am worried about the statutes because the statutes are the ones that actually have had an impact on every single life," says Senator Saud Anwar, Chair of the Housing Committee. "Every single life for the past hundreds of years. And we have to fix that. Our state is a little behind from the entire region and, arguably, in many parts of the country, not all parts of the country."
Governor Lamont says he isn't sure how much can get done in the special session but says he wants supporters to be heard at public hearings.
"In terms of Power-up Manchester, I want you in that room. I want you as part of the public hearing. I want you as part of the decisions going forward. I'm not sure we can do all of that in a special session, but we can see what we can get done," he says.
Just last week, police arrested two brothers for chasing down three black teenagers on bicycles in Manchester.
While every speaker talked about the broader racial issues embedded in our society, many officials also talked about what they think should happen directly in Manchester's recent hate crime case.
An elected official and father talked of the anger he experienced speaking to his multicultural children about the hate crime in Manchester. He also demanded action from leaders.
"Based on the incidents that happened in this community, the anger is understandable and we are all hating and the lack of understanding and the resistance to accept our cultural differences," says Manchester Board of Directors member Yolanda Castillo. "So, today I challenge you to begin to acknowledge and respect our differences."
On June 22, Manchester Police arrested brothers 27-year-old Matthew and 28-year-old Michael Lemelin on a number of charges after they allegedly chased three teenage boys who were riding their bicycles, down Main Street in Manchester, yelling racial slurs at them. According to their arrest warrants, Matthew, the passenger, stole one of the boy's bikes.
Matthew is facing several charges including intimidation based on bigotry or bias in the second degree and risk of injury to a minor. Michael is also facing risk of injury to a child as well as reckless endangerment in the second degree.
"Our laws have always been deaf to these types of behaviors," says Floyd-Cranford. "And I've spoken to people in the community. I stated that I would like to see the charges changed so that they can be sentenced to the maximum sentence. I've stated that I would love to see a minimum sentence for terrorizing children be 10 years because these children are gonna be scarred for far longer than that."
At a press conference Wednesday, local elected leaders talked about their experiences with racism and denounced what happened in Manchester.
"When the Governor came in there was a discussion over the incident in Manchester and how the kids were chased by a vehicle," says East Hartford Town Councilor, Don Bell. "It reminded me of my dad in South Carolina, who tells a story about how when he was a child in the Jim Crow South he had to hide in the bushes because Klansmen in pickup trucks would try to stop him from getting an education. So, while we have made progress as a country and as a state, we have a lot more work to do."
Governor Lamont says he isn't sure how much can get done in the special legislative session, but did say he wants supporters to be heard at public hearings.
In Manchester, the next board of directors meeting on July 7 will include discussions on racial equality.
Watch Facebook Live coverage of the entire press conference below: