The Connecticut NAACP came out Wednesday against a controversial bill that would enable the the state’s 19 largest cities and towns to install cameras at intersections to issue tickets to red light violators, saying the proposal would unfairly target “minorities and the poor” who live in larger municipalities.
The bill Monday cleared its second legislative committee — the finance committee — by a 31-19 vote, despite strong debate. It won approval from the transportation committee a month ago, and now it is headed for consideration by a third panel, the planning and development committee, before potential votes in the House and Senate.
On Wednesday, Scott X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches, issued the following statement:
Proposed legislation to allow red light cameras in Connecticut cities with populations of 48,000 or more would impose automated ticketing unequally on the people living in those cities. Targeting the urban population means disproportionately targeting minorities and the poor, aiming squarely at the people who are already singled out for unfair treatment on the roads and those least able to pay the fines involved.
Studies have shown that red light cameras don’t improve safety. Automated ticketing deprives motorists of their rights to due process. Voters have been rejecting red light cameras in a nationwide backlash and contract disputes with private camera companies have led to expensive lawsuits. Knowing all that, why would we use red light cameras to punish minorities and the urban poor with a new form of geographical racial profiling, another layer of surveillance and a type of regressive taxation by citation?
It’s no wonder that in 2011, a successful ballot initiative calling for the removal of red light cameras in Houston won its strongest support in minority neighborhoods. Nor is it surprising that the NAACP of Cincinnati, recognizing a proposal for red light cameras as an attempt to balance the city’s “$28 million deficit on our backs,” led a petition drive and forced a referendum that banned them in 2009.
The NAACP of Connecticut has concluded that red light cameras are not good for our cities, not good for Connecticut and not good for justice. We urge our legislators to reject them.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, who has vocally endorsed the bill as a solution to some of Hartford’s problems with traffic safety, responded: “I certainly share President Esdaile’s concerns regarding the inequities that exist in terms of the judicial process. That said, honoring the many Hartford families whose lives have been forever changed by people who disregard the law is a greater concern.” Segarra added: “We’re talking about mechanical devices that are being used to implement and enforce laws. I would think that that’s less biased than something that has the human ability to express a bias.”
However, another political official in Hartford has turned against the red-light camera bill after first supporting it. Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford, had talked in favor of the bill during a Feb. 16 press conference along with other officials from around the state. However, he said on Wednesday that since then, he had conducted a mail survey and spoken directly with his constituents, who live in what he described as “a very poor district.” The responses in the survey and in conversations have been strongly against red-light cameras, Roldan said. “They have concerns about privacy, concerns about unequal enforcement…, about how much this would cost.”
“I agree with the NAACP’s position on this,” Roldan said, adding that he’ll vote against the bill if it reaches the House floor.
Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are vocally supporting the bill, which has failed every time it has been introduced in past years.
Supporters have been saying that they expect that it will be pared back — from the 19 municipalities with populations exceeding 48,000 down to a half-dozen or so cities and towns whose officials have been pushing hardest for authorization to run camera-enforcement programs. Those municipalities are said to be: New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Manchester, Hamden and East Hartford.
Charles Territo, a vice president of one of the red light camera companies that has been lobbying for passage of the bill in Connecticut — Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions — responded to the NAACP statement by saying: “Red-light running is an equal opportunity killer.”
Territo went on to say: “Red-light safety cameras are used in some of the largest cities in America including New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., some for almost 20 years. They are an important tool for law enforcement to use to enhance road safety and reduce the collisions, injuries and fatalities that result from red-light running. The only people who should be concerned about receiving a red-light safety camera violation are drivers who knowingly and willingly break the law.”
Proponents of the bill say that it would save lives, improve the quality of life in cities, and free police to fight serious crime. Opponents worry about “Big Brother’s” influence and lack of due process, claiming that cameras are less about safety than grabbing government revenue through fines. Municipalities would issue tickets by mail to registered owners of the violating vehicles, imposing a $50 fine, plus an additional $15 administrative fee. Violations would not result in points against a driver’s license, but would be treated like a parking ticket.