The May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department has sparked nationwide protests. 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.
In Middlefield, on June 4, a Rally for Racial Equity and Love took place in front of the Community Center.
“This was arranged by town resident Anne Koba and was attended, I would say, by 65 people,” Middlefield First Selectman Ed Bailey said. “Social distancing was observed at the event. Pastor Rebekah Forni of Middlefield Federated Church spoke and read a reading from the Bible.
“The event was very peaceful, some people held signs.”
Bailey spoke at the gathering, echoing much of a joint statement that he, Durham First Selectman Laura Francis and Regional School District 13 Superintendent Kathryn Serino released earlier this month.
“Our message conveys our strong and unwavering commitment to peace and unity in our schools and towns and our outrage and lack of tolerance for racism and violence, including the actions that led to the killing of George Floyd,” the statement reads. “Our stance is grounded in what is right, what it means to be human, what it means to protect human rights. Racism is a human rights issue and not a political one. [W]e will continue to take action towards equity and awareness of ourselves and others against racism and violence. Violent protesting will never be supported in our schools or towns. We are living in a time when our collective concern for eachother can contribute to the healing and sustaining of well-being in our communities.”
In Durham, Laura Francis reported that a peaceful protest took place on June 6. “It was estimated that there were approximately 200 people participating,” the first selectman said. “It was organized by a CRHS student, Thomas Peters.”
Also, Francis said an 8.5-mile march in town was scheduled to take place Thursday, June 25.
Nearby in North Haven, more than 200 people turned out for a protest the Town Green. North Haven First Selectman Michael J. Freda, and many others, addressed the crowd.
“We denounced the tragedy and atrocity of George Floyd being killed,” Freda said. “It was open to those in attendance to speak. Everything was civil. There was some emotional speeches. Overall, it was handled very well. Our police department also made a statement denouncing the brutality of what happened to Mr. George Floyd.”
Freda said the event was organized by North Haven citizens.
Earlier this month, the North Haven Police Department released a statement, writing, in part: “We share in the anger many in our community and across the country are feeling about the death of George Floyd. Unfortunately, the actions in Minnesota erode the layers of trust, confidence and goodwill that so many police officers have built in the community. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, this is the foundation of our profession. Any violation of these core tenets is inexcusable.”
In Plainville, a Unity March drew hundreds of attendees. Resident Sarah Doyle helped spearhead the gathering.
“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.”
The Plainville Police Department 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.
A rally held in Berlin also was well-attended. Prior to the event, 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.”
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.
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,” Kochman said.
Also in Cheshire, hundreds turned out for a Black Lives Matter March 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."
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.”
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.