George Floyd: Valley Reaction + Next Steps
Updated: Jan 29
• Today Magazine received an SPJ award for this story in 2021 — it first appeared in our July 2020 edition and is still timeless and relevant today
By Bruce Deckert
Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine
ON MEMORIAL DAY, according to video footage and numerous reports, white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee on the neck of George Floyd — a black man who was already handcuffed and lying facedown on a city street — for eight-plus minutes until Floyd lost consciousness and was pronounced dead soon after at a local hospital.
Police had arrested Floyd after he was accused by a store owner of paying with a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd was handcuffed with his hands behind his back when Chauvin arrived to join the officers who placed Floyd in police custody. Chauvin has been charged with murder. The three officers who were with him have been fired along with Chauvin, according to reports, but they face lesser charges.
Today Magazine reached out to the police chiefs, town leaders and state legislators in the five core Farmington Valley towns — Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury — for comment about Floyd’s death.
D = Democrat • R = Republican
• These five core Valley towns are represented in Connecticut’s legislature by four state senators and five state representatives, though not strictly along town lines— italicized below underneath each legislator’s name are the Valley towns the legislator represents, plus other represented towns/cities.
• Police chiefs and town leaders are listed in alphabetical order by town. State senators and representatives are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
• Police chiefs had a maximum count of 130 words for their statements — other officials had a 100-word maximum.
Today Magazine asked these Valley officials this question:
What is your response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody and the aftermath in Minneapolis?
James Rio • Avon Director of Police Services
I have emphasized, and Avon’s officers agree, that what occurred in Minneapolis was horrific and criminal. Avon’s policy addresses the reasonable use of force and the duty of officers to stop the use of excessive force by another officer. These principles were all absent during the incident in Minneapolis. Respect and fair treatment are the core expectations of this department and must be present in any interaction we have with the public. Most of the societal injustices that exist are not the fault of the police but can be exacerbated by them. We can start repairing the reputation of law enforcement with empathy and competence during any contact. This is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to continuing our duty to protect and serve in an impartial and respectful manner.
Christopher Arciero • Canton Police Chief
An extremely troubling video depicts the actions of several Minneapolis police officers that resulted in the death of George Floyd. Those officers’ actions were reprehensible and demonstrated a level of illegality, inhumanity and depravity that is unacceptable on any level. Every Canton Police Officer shares this view. Canton police officers recognize the significant responsibility they owe to the community. It is much more than public safety. We recognize the value of human life and are committed to respecting human rights and the dignity of every individual, and the constitutional, moral and ethical right for everyone to be treated with respect, fairness and impartiality. We are devoted to this community in a manner calculated to instill confidence, compassion and trust. The Canton Police Department stands as one with our community.
Paul Melanson • Farmington Police Chief
First and foremost, the death of Mr. Floyd is a tragedy and I am disgusted. It is intolerable how someone sworn to protect and serve could do this, while other officers stood by and failed to intervene. Unfortunately, these actions in Minnesota erode the layers of trust, confidence and goodwill that so many police officers have built within their communities. Social injustice should be vilified for what it is, and every community should work to ease the tensions it creates. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Farmington officers work daily to uphold the high standards all sworn officers should abide by. We will continue to engage with our citizenry and work tirelessly to be a department of equality and justice for all.
Carl Rosensweig • Granby Police Chief
The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis shocked the conscience of law enforcement officers throughout the country. It is unlawful, immoral and disgusting. I, along with all Granby officers and town officials, are unanimous in our condemnation of the actions and inaction of the officers involved in this horrible event.
Nicholas Boulter • Simsbury Police Chief
The death of George Floyd … is an absolute tragedy. The manner in which he died was horrendous and the loss of his life was avoidable. The actions by the Minneapolis police officer and the inactions by his colleagues have launched our nation into a state of mourning and a demand for change. The Simsbury Police Department is committed to a strong relationship, a partnership, a mutual respect with our community. That is our style of policing and our reputation. Members of this department work hard to keep this community safe, to serve everyone impartially, with appreciation for individual cultures and choices, to be inclusive and to protect the rights of everyone. We are dedicated to policing with compassion, fairness and respect. We will not tolerate mistreatment of anyone.
Heather Maguire • Avon Town Council Chair
Avon is a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community built on the basis of equal treatment under the law, fundamental fairness and a respect for all individuals. The Avon Police Department works tirelessly to uphold those values, to contribute positively to our community, and to continue to be worthy of our respect. Despite this, we recognize that we can always work harder to correct social injustice in our society. Our efforts can, and should, begin right here at home. I encourage us all to support each other as we strive to do better for our community and country.
Bob Bessel • Canton First Selectman
George Floyd’s death demands that local leaders take action to improve police practices and to root out systemic racism. Well before this incident, Canton Police established policies and procedures that respect and protect everyone they serve. While a great step forward, we must remain vigilant and work together to ensure that equal rights and justice prevail for all.
C.J. Thomas • Farmington Town Council Chair
The horrific killing of George Floyd ended his life but began a movement that led to conversation, education and realization throughout the country. To do our part, Farmington has created a task force to promote social justice in our healthcare, businesses, policing and community. Forty-five years after she stood against racism, Rosa Parks said: “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.” We have a responsibility to meet this challenge head-on and work towards social justice across our entire community.
B. Scott Kuhnly • Granby First Selectman
I am truly saddened and outraged by the death of George Floyd and my heart goes out to his family and loved ones. Racism has no place in our hearts or in our communities and we must do better.
Eric Wellman • Simsbury First Selectman
Like all Americans, I am heartbroken by the needless loss of life in the killing of George Floyd. Our country needs to acknowledge the experience of African-Americans — the indignities and inequities they face simply navigating life. In Simsbury, we must continue the work we have started with our Equity Council and Spirit Council, which are intended to bring our community together and forge positive change on issues of diversity and inclusion. I am proud of our work, but there is so much more we need to do to ensure our town is a safe place for EVERYONE who lives here.
State Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro • R-6th District
Farmington (about 25%), Berlin, New Britain
In Farmington and throughout Connecticut, we honor George Floyd’s memory not by looting and destruction of property, but through peaceful protests, a commitment to unity, and a collective will to make substantive changes to our public policies. We honor George Floyd’s memory by resolving to stand against racism and police violence. … We must never turn a blind eye to mistreatment and injustice. Last year, I co-sponsored legislation which reshapes how police handle use-of-force incidents. That bill, which is now state law, added the use of chokeholds to the list of incidents police departments report. … That bipartisan progress must continue.
State Sen. John Kissel • R-7th District
Granby, East Granby, 5 more
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Those words, written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham jail, are words we are all reflecting on during these days of anguish after the death of George Floyd. We condemn police violence. We pray for George Floyd. We condemn injustice. And we pursue justice until justice is achieved. As ranking member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, I believe substantive changes will be made to strengthen our state laws. As Dr. King noted in his letter from a Birmingham jail, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
State Sen. Derek Slap • D-5th District
Farmington (about 75%), Burlington, 2 more
My heart breaks for all those who are hurting right now. As a white man of privilege, my obligation is to listen and be a strong partner in helping to confront racism and racial inequality. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the arc of the moral universe being long but bending toward justice. It's on us right now to prove him right. I believe strongly that the peaceful protests and vigils being held across the state are a clear and necessary call to action, requiring a tangible and meaningful response by the General Assembly in a special session this summer.
State Sen. Kevin Witkos • R-8th District
Avon, Canton, Granby, Simsbury, 7 more
It is heartbreaking that we continue to see incidents of excessive force by police officers leading to the death of minority individuals across our country. While laws differ from state to state, here in Connecticut we have taken meaningful steps in recent years to address use of force and accountability. Last year, the state Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 380, a bill focusing on these specific issues. I was proud to have co-sponsored, worked on and supported these efforts. However, these issues do not go away simply because a bill is passed. This must be an ongoing conversation and meaningful efforts must continue.
State Rep. Mike Demicco • D-21st District
Farmington (partial %), including Unionville
Along with millions worldwide, I am shocked, disheartened and outraged by the senseless death of George Floyd. I stand in solidarity with peaceful protestors, who are exercising their First Amendment right. They want nothing more, and nothing less, than justice, dignity and respect for all people. Racism, in various forms, has been our national shame for four centuries. It is sometimes overt, often subtle, and always insidious. I am committed to working for the elimination of racial inequities. I hope we can begin a real dialogue involving schools, houses of worship, businesses and government, and work towards real change.
State Rep. Tammy Exum • D-19th District
Farmington (partial %), Avon (about 25%), 1 more
The death of George Floyd sadly encapsulates what African-Americans have known for centuries: We are not treated equally as citizens in the United States of America. As a mom of three sons, I can't help but worry about their safety as they leave my home. For too long, many have ignored the racial injustices that have existed since our country’s founding. This tragedy, and our response, is a turning point. As the state representative of the 19th District, I promise to continue to search for solutions and be an active participant in the conversations around these issues going forward.
State Rep. John Hampton • D-16th District
I condemn the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. There's no place for such hatred and violence in 21st century America. Black lives matter and are endowed with inalienable rights to pursue happiness and personal fulfillment without exception. Systemic racism must be dismantled and that hard work begins in communities like Simsbury. I am calling for a special session of the Connecticut General Assembly to craft legislation that would include further limits on the use of excessive force by police, the requirement of body cameras for all police officers, and expanded diversity training.
State Rep. Leslee Hill • R-17th District
Canton, Avon (about 75%)
My reaction to the horrific murder of George Floyd, at the hands of men who never deserved to wear a badge, is profound sadness, anger and frustration. These emotions cause me to look inward to reflect on my personal values and actions, and outward to focus on the opportunities I have, by virtue of the position I hold, to catalyze change. We cannot pass this off as a problem that doesn’t impact our small towns. We must ensure that everyone participating in the life of our communities knows they are safe, respected and welcome.
State Rep. Bill Simanski • R-62nd District
Granby, Barkhamsted, Hartland, New Hartford
Today Magazine hasn’t seen a reply after emailing Simanski three requests for comment. +
• This article received a second-place SPJ Award in 2021 in Connecticut's Diversity Coverage magazine category — and was first published in the July 2020 issue of Today Magazine, both the print and digital editions
• Today Magazine (our monthly publication) and Today Online (our 24/7 news site) are award-winning news vehicles that cover the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley
• Editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert was a five-time award-winning journalist when this article was first published — as of this update, he is an 11-time SPJ award-winner
• SPJ = Society of Professional Journalists
• Story — Nine more SPJ awards for Today Magazine