It’s foolhardy to believe that Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, a lawyer by trade, did not know his recent hire had a criminal background. And we hope the mayor does not use this episode as an excuse to change the city’s ban-the-box policy, a measure that the Hartford City Council passed in 2010 and which prevents the City from doing background checks until individuals are hired. The aim is to hire people based primarily on their qualifications.
On Tuesday City Hall announced two new staff appointments, one of which was a political and legislative director for the Working Families Party of Connecticut, 32-year-old Kennard Ray. On the next day, a newspaper ran a story about Ray’s criminal record. Ray, a Hartford native, was to begin his job in the mayor’s office on Dec. 2 as a liaison to the city council, community organizations and city residents. In less than 24 hours, that changed because Ray “withdrew his name from consideration.”
Ray’s background check revealed a conviction in 1997 for the sale of narcotics, in 1998 for possession of narcotics, in 1998 for carrying a pistol without a permit and in 2004 for criminal possession of a gun. The city’s policy is to conduct background checks on candidates by their first day of employment. Officials said they were now looking to change that policy.
On the surface, it seemed like many people at city hall want the mayor to look incompetent. The mayor, however, is not incompetent. Besides, Segarra has command of the police department and has access to legal databases with extensive court records. He could have—and might have—done his own homework. Therefore, The Hartford Guardian is slow to believe this was a political blunder.
Nevertheless, we are quick to say that the mayor should not reverse the much- needed policy change that impacts structural inequality in the city. He should keep the ban-the-box policy. Here’s why: Because the seeds planted decades ago, there are stark inequities firmly in place today to keep people oppressed and excluded. It’s only now we are beginning to see attempts to address those disparities. Let’s continue forward—not backward.
Also, given the state of police and community interactions in the city and the state, where many police officers have actually lied on their incident reports, this should have been context for a story like Ray’s. It’s also one reason why the ban-the-box policy, a tool for removing the barriers to hiring, had been implemented across the nation. The policy helps to chip away at many of the obstacles for a segment of society that has double the unemployment rate of white America.
Consider this fact: black and brown people are disproportionately targeted, searched and arrested by police. In some cases, research has shown that police fabricate stories, and courts rubber stamp them with outrageous sentences for these crimes.
But even if Ray was not a victim of this common history, he–like former Gov. John Rowland and other white individuals with criminal records–should have been given a second chance.
Rowland is a convicted felon. Yet others have found a way to explain Rowland’s redemptive qualities and his qualifications. And they gave him a very public job.
Besides, research shows that because of blatant discrimination, a white man without a college degree and with a criminal record is likely to get hired rather than a college educated black person without a criminal record for comparable jobs.
Good grief to that, too.
Onlookers see this as another chapter in the book of double standards. And they should.
The mayor should have refused Ray’s resignation, and Ray should have had more gumption to argue his own case.
If anything is to be learned from this latest episode at city hall, it is this: Segarra should realize that the people who wrote the article that spurred this recent episode have different realities than most of his constituents–no matter how many black friends they have on Facebook. Segarra’s obligation—first and foremost—is to his constituents. And if Ray would have served them well during this position at city hall, there should have been no room to equivocate on his hiring. None.