The May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department has sparked nationwide protests which show no signs of dissipating.
Across the U.S. – and right in our own backyard – citizens have taken to the streets to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to stand against racism.
The “Plainville Unity March” drew hundreds of attendees. Resident Sarah Doyle helped spearhead the gathering, which included a one-mile march from the Municipal Center to Norton Park.
“I’ve never organized any type of rally, or march, or protest in the past,” said Doyle, who worked with fellow Plainville resident Monique Jones-Pelletier to pull the Unity March together. “It’s one of those things: Be the change you want to see in the world. So if I don’t want my little community to be silent, then I need to be the person to speak up.”
Doyle was heartened to see the town’s response to the Unity March. She thought a crowd of 50 or 100 people may take part, but some 400 came out.
“It was an amazing sight to see that line of people that just went on, and on, and on,” she said. “And people were driving by and honking, waving, calling out in support. Business owners and employees were coming outside with signs they had made to show their support as we marched by.”
The Plainville Police Department also showed its solidarity with the marchers.
“Chief (Matthew) Catania was incredibly supportive, and he spoke at the rally. He marched with us. I think that was a very substantial gesture on the part of the Plainville Police Department, and I know it was very well-received by our community,” said Doyle.
Well-attended peaceful protests have taken place throughout the area, including in Berlin, where hundreds converged on Veterans Park and marched along Farmington Avenue.
Prior to that rally, in a message posted to the Berlin Police Department Facebook page, police chief John M. Klett made it known that he understands why people have felt compelled to protest.
“Every member of the Berlin Police Department shares the community’s grief over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The actions and inactions during that incident were inexcusable and shocking to the conscience. The Officers involved are unworthy to wear the badge and have done immeasurable harm to the law enforcement community and the public trust we strive for,” Klett wrote.
The Berlin chief added, “All people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. There is no room for racism in law enforcement. Any officer who violates their oath or the public trust must be removed from the profession. Recent events make it clear that there is much work to be done to improve police legitimacy.”
Klett ended his statement by saying, “As a community it is of utmost importance to respect the right to peacefully protest and we will continue to protect and serve those working and living in the Town of Berlin.”
In Cheshire, a “Prayer Vigil for Peace, Justice and Love” was hosted by the First Congregational Church of Cheshire.
“I attended this vigil simply as a very concerned citizen of the Cheshire community,” said Ron Kochman. He was concerned about human rights, but his 93-year-old mother’s comments also pressed him to attend.
Kochman explained his mother, who is Jewish, was born in Berlin, Germany in 1926. “She was lucky and escaped Nazi holocaust,” he said.
His mother went to Shanghai, China with her immediate family. “It was there she met my father and in 1947 they came to the place they thought was free of bias and persecution: The United States of America,” Kochman said.
Kochman described a phone conversation he recently had with his mother. He said she was quite worried after watching news about George Floyd and the events in Washington, D.C.’s Layfayette Park.
He quoted his mother as saying, “I can't believe what’s happening in this country. I thought I was done with this hatred and police state tactics ... Are we seeing the end of our free country?"
“If that isn't reason enough to attend this vigil I don't know what would be,” he said.
Also in Cheshire, hundreds turned out for a “Black Lives Matter” March. Participants walked along Route 10 from Bartlem Park to Town Hall. Many in the crowd held signs and speakers addressed the crowd to call for an end to racial inequality and police brutality.
The march was organized by Cheshire High School seniors and other students.
Breina Schain said she attended along with several members of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee and "was there to support the students (and) share my outrage at the killing of George Floyd and at racism or inequality in general."
In Wallingford, a protest was organized by a group of high school students, who declined to identify themselves publicly, saying they feared retaliation. They said in a statement following the protest that they received positive feedback from people happy to see "a peaceful protest in their town that has previously been silent on the issue."
"We were not expecting so many people," they said, "but were extremely elated to see how many people came out that day to fight against the injustice in our country."
About an hour into the protest, a few hundred people gathered at the police station at 135 N. Main St.
Many chanted slogans and shouted at police. Eventually, some engaged in conversation with officers.
In Southington, hundreds marched around downtown after resident Joseph Goding called for the assembly on social media.
“I’m very happy with the outcome, it was very peaceful,” Goding said. “I’m very proud of my town.”
Protesters carried signs with messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop killing us,” “Viva la revolucion” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
Southington Police Chief Jack Daly, who attended the march, said it occurred without incident.
“They voiced their opinion on certain issues. We at the police department defend their right to protest,” the chief said. “It’s a First Amendment right.”
In Meriden, rallies occurred on back-to-back days. The first drew some 1,000 people to the city green.
Meriden resident Michael Valentin said he was surprised by the turnout and hopes it will unite and inspire people to work on bettering themselves, especially police. "This is history right now … this is our history, that we get to tell our children," he said.
Michelle Clay, who attended the Meriden protest, said institutional racism keeps black mothers like herself up at night waiting for their sons to return, keeps African Americans off ballots and keeps textbooks written from a white perspective in the classroom.
-- Record-Journal reporters contributed to this story.