Chris Powell: Hartford protesters just irritated the public


Yes, as the protesters chanted and their signs read in downtown Hartford last Monday, "Black lives matter." But the protesters were in the wrong place.

For of course all lives matter, and the protesters were blocking afternoon rush-hour traffic as if no one else mattered.

The protest was nothing like the brave civil-rights protests of old, the lunch-counter sit-ins, where the targets were perpetrators of injustice. No, on Monday everyone passing through downtown Hartford was punished.

Further, despite its many faults, state government lately has been sensitive to the concerns of the protesters, quite without any prodding from them, as those concerns are widely shared among state residents of all races and echoed by newspapers.

With support from legislators of all races, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has been advocating his "Second Chance Society" legislation to eliminate felony charges for simple drug possession, charges that disproportionately snag city residents, who are disproportionately from minority groups and live disproportionately in the silly "drug-free zones" around schools. Also a major issue in the General Assembly's recent session was legislation to equip police officers with body cameras.

Both bills might have passed if the legislature had been well-organized and will be considered again soon in a special section.

The legislature's recent session did pass a bill to restore the accessibility of police arrest records and to require disclosure of police body and dashboard camera video of arrests. Meanwhile, police departments throughout the state are generally recognizing the public's right to observe and record police work.

Last Monday's protesters would have helped their cause by showing up at the state Capitol a few weeks ago to speak at hearings and approach legislators for earnest discussion. Their blocking rush-hour traffic didn't call attention to any particular culprit and didn't win sympathy. To the contrary, it merely alienated and was just an exercise in self-righteousness.

If this exercise is repeated in Hartford or anywhere else, the police should not indulge it as long as they did last Monday before arresting the 17 protesters who refused to get out of the street. No one has the right to shut society down.

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Serving a population that is largely impoverished and drawn from ethnic minorities, Hartford's police department long has worked not to seem to be an occupying army. This hasn't been easy, especially lately amid an increase in deadly violence in the city as the warm weather has brought fatherless and predatory young men outside to go after each other with guns.

Maybe because they live among so many predators, most Hartford residents seem to appreciate their police. But an incident of police misconduct in April, recently reported by The Hartford Courant, has left a serious question.

A pedestrian using a cellphone to take video of a trap that police had set up to catch drivers using cellphones was rushed by a police officer who yelled, "Turn the phone off before I smash it." Fortunately the officer's threatening and illegal behavior was captured by the pedestrian's cellphone and shown to the newspaper and then to police administrators.

In no way had the pedestrian interfered with the police, and the police department quickly repudiated the officer's misconduct, summoning him for "retraining" and affirming that police must accept being recorded.

But that wasn't enough.

For any police officer who would lunge at and threaten an unoffending observer that way is not just oblivious to what is going on in police work around the country. He is also psychologically unfit to be a police officer and should be fired -- and would be fired if government in Connecticut weren’t controlled by the government- employee unions.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.