MERIDEN — A Black Lives Matter rally attracted more than 1,000 people to the amphitheater on the Meriden Green Saturday as speakers condemned the loss of lives at the hands of police and racism.
“How do you displace power?” asked speaker Wilton Carroway Jr. “You take power. You want to change things, you take power and vote. Please do not leave here and say you’re not going to vote.”
The youth group Bridging the Gap, which hosted the rally, expressed surprise about the number of people who came out despite storm clouds threatening to halt the rally before it began.
The crowd was peaceful and diverse with hundreds carrying signs reading “I can’t breathe” and “Say their names” in honor of George Floyd, who died last week while in police custody, and others including Eric Garner, Tyrone Rice Jr., Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and more.
Carroway grew up in Meriden and was a member of the Raiders youth football team. He praised the city for its cultural unity and diversity. Black youths socialize with Hispanics and whites, surprising many of his out-of-town friends.
“You as a city of Meriden are unified. Meriden is changing things,” Carroway said. “Either get on board or get out of the way because black lives matter.”
Meriden/Wallingford NAACP President Kim Fisher also spoke about being racially profiled and being the mother of black sons. Fisher is also on the committee that is selecting the city’s next police chief, a role she takes very seriously, she said.
“No one has the right to tell us how to feel,” Fisher told the crowd. “For the Meriden Police Department, this stage today is not your platform. Your platform is to walk the crowd and get to know the community.”
Fisher called for more transparency from the police department, and asked police and the crowd to introduce themselves to each other and their children.
About 25 Meriden police officers attended the rally and could be seen chatting with rally goers during a break in the event. They fielded questions about their own responses to bad behavior from their fellow officers, and how their concerns are handled internally.
Officers’ names were not on their uniforms Saturday as a sign of department unity, said police spokesman Darrin McKay.
“We didn’t want to show rank, we wanted to all be thought of as officers today and wanted to be reflective of the department,” McKay said.
The Meriden Police Department has already adopted policies that other departments in the U.S. are now adopting, McKay said. For instance, Minneapolis just announced on Friday it would ban chokeholds by police, whereas Meriden outlawed police chokeholds years ago.
“We were happy to hear we were invited to participate by the organization,” McKay said. “This was our hope to listen and participate.”
Police and city officials were pleased with the turnout and the constructive interaction with the rally goers.
City Manager Tim Coon also attended the rally and was pleased at the turnout.
“I’m very pleased with the event and everybody across the board,” Coon said.
A march from City Hall to the Green is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. today. Fisher, of the NAACP, is scheduled to speak and local clergy will attend.