MERIDEN — Two local events organizers say are designed to bring attention to police brutality and systemic racism are being planned for the weekend.
Bridging the Gap, a group of local young people, is hosting a rally Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Meriden Green amphitheater.
The Rev. Parrish Holloman, the NAACP Youth President for Middlesex County, is organizing a march Sunday from City Hall to the Green at 1 p.m.
The two events are not affiliated with each other.
“I’m doing this completely from my own heart — unaffiliated with any group and not associated with the one on Saturday,” Holloman said. “As a young black man I felt it necessary to do something in my community — different than the protests. The tone and message of this event will be peaceful and in honor of those affected by police brutality.”
Saturday’s rally aims to educate the community on issues related to justice and unity, said organizer Pedro Ramos. Sunday’s march will honor George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died last week after a police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“We’re stressing as much as we can, this is a peaceful event,” Ramos said. “We can’t control what other organizations are doing. We’re trying to minimize that as much as we can and the Meriden Police Department is on our side.”
Ramos and other organizers are stressing public safety to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing is expected, masks will be provided for those who don’t have them and hand sanitizer will be available. In addition to invited speakers Kim Fisher, president of the Meriden Wallingford NAACP, social worker Joshua Fisher and Malik Champlain, of Passion Hunger Drive Inc. there will be information available to those who wish to become more active in peaceful activism and civil rights issues. Local police will also have a presence at both events.
The officer involved in Floyd’s death is charged with second-degree murder, and abetting charges have been filed against three other officers.
“We need to communicate more,” said Fisher who is also working with organizers of Sunday’s walk down East Main Street. “It’s getting worse. More and more people need to get involved. We need to see the face of police and they need to see us. They need to be more visible and transparent in light of what happened to George Floyd. We don’t want kids to be afraid of police, or they afraid of us.”
According to Connecticut NAACP President Scott Esdaile, the country was teetering on the edge and the video of Floyd’s death pushed it over. Despite its diversity and large Latino population, racism exists in Meriden like elsewhere, Esdaile added.‘Unhealed divisions’
Ramos said local police have been cooperative with plans for Saturday’s rally on the Green and police have also expressed support for Sunday’s march.
The Rev. Willie Young of Mount Hebron Baptist Church and the Rev. James Manship of St. Rose Church plan to join Sunday’s march. Young is a longtime activist in the Meriden community and, before coming to Meriden, Manship helped reveal civil rights violations against minorities in East Haven that led to a Department of Justice consent decree.
“It’s a time of solidarity,’ Manship said. “It’s important to come together as communities of faith and recognize something big is happening. It’s a reawakening for unhealed divisions caused by racism and systemic racism ingrained in institutions.”
“Both events have secured the proper permits and each event has the use of the green and the support of the Meriden Police Department,” a department spokesperson said.
“It is our understanding that each event planned has been organized in order to bring to light what so many people across our nation perceive to be an alarmingly high number of in-custody deaths when dealing with the police,” according to a statement from Meriden police. “Our agency recognizes this as well, and we as an agency are deeply saddened by the increasing number of senseless and avoidable minority deaths which have occurred over the last several years.”
About 300 to 400 people are expected to attend Saturday’s rally, Ramos said.Honor and empower
Organizer Katherine Contreras of Meriden plans to be at the rally to help register voters and get people more involved in the community.
“This protest is really in honor of Black Lives Matter,” Contreras said.
“This has happened time and time again. This is part of bringing the community together and involved. We can get them registered to vote, and into fields of making a difference. This has been happening for generations. It needs to stop.”
Until elected officials and administrations start prosecuting racist police officers, the protests will not end, Esdaile said this week.
Democratic City Councilor Michael Cardona, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, backed the groups’ message for the rally and walk, providing it’s done safely.
“I would be totally supportive of a peaceful rally that expresses the sentiment of the message, but it needs to remain peaceful,” Cardona said.
“They are working with police to make whatever calculations are needed depending on the size of the crowd. I would hope that participants wear masks.”