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News

Juveniles, Joyrides & Justice: How politics has shifted the narrative

Glastonbury Mailer
Glastonbury Republican Town Committee
/
This mailer is from the Glastonbury Republican Town Committee.

Connecticut’s juvenile justice system and car thefts were the hot political topics over the summer. Media outlets picked up the story and largely showed white victims in the suburbs with minority suspects in Connecticut’s cities. Local critics cried foul over the coverage, asking for context. In Part 2 of our investigative series, Juveniles, Joyrides & Justice, two people with eyes on Connecticut’s political world give their take.

Connecticut’s juvenile justice system and car thefts were the hot political topics over the summer. Media outlets picked up the story and largely showed white victims in the suburbs with minority suspects in Connecticut’s cities.

Local critics cried foul over the coverage, asking for context. Mel Medina is one of them.

If you were to take a quick look at Medina’s Twitter feed, you might think his full-time job was fact-checking the Connecticut GOP’s tweets.

Medina is actually the former policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.

“My main issue is, I’m deeply concerned that children are being used as scapegoats for a larger goal of returning Connecticut back to an era of being tough on crime, and restarting a mass incarceration machine,” said Medina.

Across the country, crime — including motor vehicle thefts — spiked during the pandemic, but the data don’t show that children are to blame for the rise and vehicle thefts are now subsiding.

Mike Lawlor, who was Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, now teaches at the University of New Haven.

“I think it’s no surprise that sensational stories are likely to be the lead stories in the local TV news, and in all forms of media, because they’re very dramatic, and they’re scary to people,” said Lawlor. “And so people see this stuff in the news, and they react to it. It’s not blaming them for reacting to it, I’m just pointing out that, if you put it in context, things are actually a lot better now than they were five years ago.”

Lawlor says that on the political front, the narrative has shifted — to us versus them.

“It’s not a criticism. I mean, I was a politician, I had to run for office. I know the kinds of things that you felt the need to say in order to get people to vote for you,” said Lawlor.

The politics of it all showed up in Glastonbury, where a mailer paid for by the Glastonbury Republican Town Committee shows a broken windshield and reads in part, “It happened to them, and it could happen to you!” The back of the mailer says people are afraid of carjackings, shootings and robberies.

Medina says the mailer has racial undertones despite race not being mentioned.

“The mailer’s problematic because it’s borrowing on a theme, a politically motivated theme that has been entrenched in our larger media narrative, that the problem we have are young Black and Latino kids stealing cars,” said Medina.

But politicians on both sides of the aisle say it’s more of a city-versus-suburbs issue.

“I think the conversation has been heightened and elevated because you’re starting to see it unfortunately in suburbs,” said Erin Stewart, New Britain’s Republican mayor.

Lawlor says there’s a simple solution to all of this.

“The one thing that would really help and wouldn’t cost anything, and you could implement it overnight, would be to convince everybody to lock their cars. If the cars weren’t so easy to take, people would stop doing it,” said Lawlor.

Not so fast, says state Rep. Craig Fishbein, a Republican.

“Democrats don’t want solutions here and they continue to blame victims. I constantly hear ‘lock your cars.’ But even if you do lock your car, the next blame is where you shouldn’t have left that thing in your car.”

City or suburb, Black or white, locked or unlocked car — when it comes to juvenile justice, politicians are sticking to their narratives.

To see Part 1 of the series, click here.

Do you have a story that needs to be investigated? Submit your news tips here or email us at tips@ctpublic.org