HARTFORD — The Connecticut NAACP said Wednesday that it opposes a controversial bill that would enable the state's 19 largest cities and towns to install cameras at intersections to catch red-light violators.
The association said the measure would unfairly target city-dwellers, many of them poor and members of racial minorities.
"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," Scott X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches, said in a statement.
"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," Esdaile said.
Supporters of the bill defended it.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, who has vocally endorsed the bill as a solution to some of Hartford's problems with traffic safety, said: "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."
"Red-light running is an equal opportunity killer," said Charles Territo, vice president of communications for one of the red-light camera companies that has been lobbying for passage of the bill in Connecticut: Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.
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 the Senate.
The NAACP now joins the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut in opposing the bill, which has failed every time it has been introduced in past years.
Esdaile also said in his statement: "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?"
Esdaile noted that in 2011, a successful ballot initiative to remove red-light cameras in Houston "won its strongest support in minority neighborhoods." He also said 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," Esdaile said. "We urge our legislators to reject them."
Segarra said cameras aren't biased. "We're talking about mechanical devices that are being used to implement and enforce laws," he said. "I would think that that's less biased than something that has the human ability to express a bias."
But another political official in Hartford said he has turned against the red-light camera bill after first supporting it.
"I agree with the NAACP's position on this," said Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford. He had talked in favor of the bill during a Feb. 16 press conference along with other officials from around the state. However, he said 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 have been strongly against red-light cameras, Roldan said.
"They have concerns about privacy, concerns about unequal enforcement …, about how much this would cost," Roldan said.
The bill's supporters now say that they expect the measure it will be pared back from allowing cameras in the 19 municipalities with populations exceeding 48,000 down, and more likely will include a half-dozen or so cities and towns whose officials have been pushing hardest for authorization to run camera-enforcement programs. Those are said to be New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Manchester, Hamden and East Hartford.
Under the bill, municipalities could 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 drivers' licenses.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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