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First Selectman Messages

Town of Canton >> Boards and Commissions >> Board of Selectmen >> First Selectman >> First Selectman Messages

6/22/2020 - 06/22/2020


Dear Residents,

Across our country, the killing of George Floyd has turned a spotlight on questions about police violence and systemic racism. These issues have been with every American since we were born, and they remain unresolved. 

We can no longer deny that people are dying, that lives are upended and that human potential is getting squandered because of racism and police violence. For many, this is a moment of despair. For many others, this is an opportunity to change things for the better.

I am proud to say that the Canton Police Department is a force for positive change. Two years ago, the department proactively addressed many of the concerns being raised today. Canton’s Use of Force policy includes:
- Required intervention if one officer observes another using excessive force, such as chokeholds 
- De-escalation procedures and training to reduce the incidence of violence during police encounters 
- Respect and help for people with physical and mental health conditions that may render them unable to comply with a police officer’s commands 

There is a lot more in Canton’s Use of Force policy, but I would direct you to the first line which sets the tone throughout: 
“The Canton Police Department recognizes the value of human life and is committed to respecting human rights and the dignity of every individual and the Constitutional right to be free from excessive force, whether deadly or not, by a law enforcement officer.”

Recent actions demonstrate the Canton Police Department’s commitment to this policy. The police have been active participants in both Black Lives Matter events in our town, ensuring they are safe for all involved. Going forward, the police would like to conduct a public forum on police policy (as soon as we can convene a public meeting!). I will absolutely join this meeting to help everyone understand what the Town of Canton is doing.

Our police are not the only Canton officials committed to positive change. Our elected boards and state representatives, town employees and school personnel are committed to equality and respect for all. We attend and speak at rallies. We discuss your concerns in person, on the phone or via email and Zoom. We are working together to change things for the better.

That said, Canton is not perfect. Our police do not have body cameras. Many of us enjoy privileges that we have yet to recognize as privileges. Many of us ask if this problem can be solved at all. Basketball star and author Kareem Abdul Jabbar writes that racism is like dust. “At first you don’t see it, but when you start looking, you find it everywhere.”

Let’s use this moment of crisis to find our own “dust” and clean it out. Our fear of “others” is causing real pain to people who could be our friends, our colleagues and our neighbors. It is also robbing society of the ideas and energy we need to thrive. 

Let’s start by acknowledging the humanity in each other – much as our friends in India who greet each other with the word “Namaste.” Loosely translated, Namaste means: “The spirit in me recognizes and respects the spirit in you.”

Can you imagine what would happen if we all did that? We would treat each other better. We would grow as a nation. And America would, at long last, be free.

Stay well,
Bob Bessel




Kevin Witkos
First Selectman
Phone: (860) 693-7847

Office Hours:
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Canton Town Hall
P.O. Box 168
4 Market Street
Collinsville, CT 06022