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Southington anti-racism protest organizer: ‘I’m very proud of my town’

SOUTHINGTON — Hundreds of people marched around downtown Southington Monday night in a rally prompted by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Joseph Goding, a Southington resident, called for the march on social media.

“I’m very happy with the outcome, it was very peaceful,” Goding said Tuesday. “I’m very proud of my town.”

Floyd, who was black, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and became motionless. Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He and three other officers were fired.

The death prompted rioting as well as peaceful protests across the country. Police Chief Jack Daly, who attended Monday’s march, said it occurred without incident.

“They voiced their opinion on certain issues. We at the Police Department defend their right to protest,” he said. “It’s a First Amendment right.”

He estimated about 200 people marched on the Town Green and along downtown streets.

‘Stop racism’

On Monday, protesters carried signs with messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop killing us,” “Viva la revolucion” and “No Justice, no Peace.”

The main message of the march was to stop racism, Goding said. His next step is to talk to the Board of Education about racism that occurs in the schools.

Cheryl Hilton, a black Southington resident, said she was pleased to see the march. She suggested diversity training, more minority hiring and other measures to the Board of Education last year after a Southington High School student posted a video in 2018 threatening black classmates.

That incident prompted School Superintendent Tim Connellan to form the Coalition for Social Justice.

Hilton said that group hasn’t made any recommendations yet, but is working with a state group on exploring their own biases. While not on the coalition, she’s gotten calls from coalition members as part of an exercise.

The protest helped “open up a necessary dialogue in this town,” Hilton said. She didn’t attend, but did drive by.

“I want people to expand their visions and to understand that for all time, black people in particular but also people of color have been treated unjustly, unfairly and unlawfully,” Hilton said. “We’re tired and we’re speaking out.”

Lasting solutions

Bob Brown, a Board of Education member and a Democrat, is on the coalition. He said the work of examining biases is difficult, but important to combating racism.

The coalition, which includes school officials and parents, is looking to implement deep-seated changes rather than a “Band-Aid solution.”

“It’s more getting at teachers, examining their core beliefs, how do you react to a situation in a classroom in a more careful, thoughtful fashion, how do you teach young kids, all kids, to be more open minded, more fair minded?” Brown said. “Those are more complicated things than, ‘We had a rally.’ Not that rallies are bad.”

Victoria Triano, Town Council chairwoman and a Republican, said the protesters were able to get their message across without it being lost due to violence or other problems.

“There was a very nice spirit about it all,” she said. “When I saw the way it was being held, I was really pleased. The message wasn’t getting lost in extraneous things like we’ve seen in other cities.”

Diversity task force

Following the incident at Southington High School, the council formed a task force to review town policies and procedures. That group is still working and reviewing hiring and promoting practices to make sure they’re open to minorities. Triano said Southington is also fortunate in how much training it gives its police officers.

That showed during Monday’s protest, she said, when police didn’t react to yelling from marchers.

Police officers “were perfect. They gave (marchers) the space to protest,” she said.

“Overall, I think we in Southington have a good relationship with the police.”

Ending racism would require cultural change, Triano said, which takes time.

“You can’t legislate having integrity in this area. That’s something that has to be lived for a while,” she said. “You can’t just push a button.”

Daly said he hopes Floyd’s death doesn’t hurt relations between Southington residents and the Police Department. The Minneapolis incident was “absolutely horrific,” he said, and saddened the whole department.

“We’re going to continue to do the work that it takes to have a strong relationship with our community,” Daly said. “It might have set us back a little bit within certain members of our community. It’ll just make us work harder.”

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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