Officials condemn racist acts

MANCHESTER — At a news conference held just down the street from where a racist incident took place two weeks ago — during which police say that three Black teens on bikes were chased by two white men in a vehicle — Gov. Ned Lamont and local politicians Wednesday condemned recent acts of bigotry in the state while emphasizing they plan to take steps to combat racism legislatively.

“We’re afflicted with two evil and highly contagious viruses in our body politic — one’s racism and the other is COVID,” Lamont said Wednesday at the event in the Mary Cheney Library.

The library is just over half a mile from where police said three Black teens were chased by brothers Matthew Lemelin, 27, and Michael Lemelin, 28, while riding their bikes to the store. The brothers were arrested a few days after the incident, and one of them was charged with a hate crime-related offense.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said that Connecticut police have investigated at least seven acts of racial bias in the state since June 1.

“No young child or teenager should have to go through what young people in Manchester went through,” Bysiewicz said.

Rashad Conway, nephew of Manchester Director Pamela Floyd-Cranford, shared his perspective as a young Black man growing up in town. He said his father taught him at a very young age he’d have to work twice as hard just to be treated the same way as others, he said.

As a Manchester High School graduate now attending Trinity College, Conway said towns like Manchester have to improve how they educate students, discipline them, and communicate with Black youth.

“Today’s society is still unfair, and my father continues to express concerns for me,” Conway said. “We have to improve who we are.”

Manchester Mayor Jay Moran, several members of the town’s Board of Directors and Board of Education, and state legislators who represent the area shared words of solidarity with the activists and others who want racism addressed at a state and local level. Members of East Hartford’s Town Council also spoke to share their perspective from a neighboring community.

“We have a lot of work to do, and I understand that,” Moran said.

Tracy Patterson, a member of the Manchester Board of Education, said the work to combat racism continues and the movement will not be distracted by changes that should have been made a long time ago.

“You can’t just remove the statues, put BET Awards on CBS, change the names of music groups, change packaging on cereal, rice, and syrup, to make up for 400 years of systematic racism, slavery, and oppression,” Patterson said.

Director Yolanda Castillo said systemic racism and white privilege are both deeply entrenched in the country’s culture and Americans need to do better at understanding each other’s differences.

“The injustice does exist … the anger is understandable,” Castillo said. “Educate one another and become one community, one Manchester.

Lamont and other state legislators in attendance said they wanted to address racism in some way during the upcoming special legislative session, though were unclear as to what they could accomplish in such a short time.

While politicians and members of some civil rights organizations spoke, local activists from groups including Power Up–Manchester made their presence known with signs reading “Black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.”

At one point during the press conference, a woman asked the speakers about the death of Jose Soto, who was killed by officers with the Capitol Regional Emergency Response Team, a regional SWAT team, on April 2 as he emerged from a relative’s home after refusing to surrender to correction officers trying to pick him up for a parole violation.

The woman said that Tolland State’s Attorney Matthew C. Gedansky should not be handling the investigation of the police shooting and should be removed from it.

Flanked by several members of the town’s Board of Directors, Moran said that group recently sent a letter to the office of the Chief State’s Attorney “addressing the conflicts of Gedansky being from Tolland and the CREST unit covering Tolland.” The letter asked the chief state’s attorney to look into this conflict and remove Gedansky from the investigation.