MERIDEN — With several city councilors speaking passionately prior to the council’s Monday vote on a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, the measure passed nearly unanimously.
The only nay vote came from Councilor Bob Williams Jr.
Moments before the vote, which occurred during a video conference meeting, Councilor Sonya Jelks described the resolution as one that is more about addressing longstanding health disparities experienced by people of color, than vilifying law enforcement.
“We’re talking about interactions that cause harm, period,” Jelks said.
The most terse exchanges during the council’s discussion of the resolution came following Williams’ remarks that there were lines in it biased against the legal system and first responders. Williams also took issue with a clause that began, “Whereas Black lives matter,” saying it should be reworded, “all lives matter.”
Councilor Dan Brunet, who ultimately voted for the resolution, echoed Williams’ remarks, when he stated the resolution basically “demonizes an entire institution” — law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
That remark elicited a strong rebuke from Councilor Larue Graham.
“What has the justice system done to the Black man, other than demonize? Why do you think we’re at this point?” Graham said.
Then Graham addressed Williams’ assertion.
“Before all lives matter, Black lives have to matter,” he said.
The resolution’s adoption comes months after it was initially proposed. The council previously had been set to vote on it in March. However, the council, voted to refer the item back to its Human Services Committee.
It came back to the full body with some slightly modified language.
The committee reworded a clause that begins with “Whereas, studies have linked racism to negative health and death outcomes,” to “including interactions” with the criminal justice system “as a leading cause of death for black men.”
That clause originally stated interactions with police.
During last week’s committee level discussion, Human Services chairwoman Krystle Blake explained the purpose of the revised wording in the first half of the resolution was to reflect all aspects of the justice system, including law enforcement, the judicial system and incarceration.
The exchanges Monday night were similar to those that occurred less than a week ago.
Ultimately Brunet and fellow Republican Michael Carabetta voted for the resolution, but not before criticizing it. Last week, Brunet described the resolution as a “cause du jour.”
Graham took issue with the remark.
“This has been an issue all of my life,” he said last week. “All 53 years of my life. For you to minimize that or make it seem like this is something that is just happening, I take offense to that.
“But I have, for 53 years, Dan, have not been able to get away from it,” he continued.
“I for 53 years, or for 23 years that I’ve been a parent, have not been able to get away from it. Dealing with it on a daily basis, dealing with it with my kids, why people treat them differently sometimes.... You don’t have that problem, Dan. You never had that problem. You never had to worry about being stopped or how the interaction is going to go, are you going to get home? Well, I do.”