WALLINGFORD — About a dozen people gathered at the gazebo Tuesday afternoon in solidarity with the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, their signs eliciting car honks that reverberated throughout downtown.
Lifelong town resident Darrell Stancuna started sign-waving on Sunday with a homemade cardboard sign that read “Black lives matter” on one side and “Justice for George Floyd” on the other.
George Floyd died May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after being handcuffed and held face down in the street by police officers, one of whom kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
“I went to a protest Friday night in New Haven,” Stancuna said, “and I said to myself, I’m going to wake up and have my own protest in Wallingford, and if it’s just me at least it will be something.”
He returned with his sign Monday and Tuesday to the town landmark at Johanna Manfreda Fishbein Park, which sits along the busy Route 5 intersection with Center Street.
Stancuna, who ran unsuccessfully for Wallingford Town Council as a Democrat in 2017, jumped and cheered whenever passing motorists honked or waved at him.
Word-of-mouth and a couple of Twitter posts helped publicize Stancuna’s protest. On Tuesday, Stancuna was joined by town residents Carlos Perez and his 17-year-old his son, C.J. Perez.
“I think all of it is based on a simple truth, that minorities are still discriminated against in America,” said C.J. Perez, a junior at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven. “Just seeing those protests to me, they’re all justified in what they’re doing, in their cause, and that’s what’s so inspiring about it to me.”
Samantha Foley, 24, said the protests have raised awareness about racism and prejudice, and that sharing on social media and donating to community groups are other ways to get involved.
Lois Sachrider, 95, came to the protest in her wheelchair accompanied by her caretaker, Holly Adamo.
Sachrider, a retired music teacher, said that white Americans need to examine more closely the legacy of slavery.
“The white people have to ask themselves, if I were in their place, what would my feelings be, before condemning,” she said.‘Infuriated’
Community leaders responded this week to the protests that have lasted for a week now.
Wallingford Police Chief William Wright said in a statement Monday that Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers “has understandably sparked outrage throughout the United States and the world.”
“The callousness and disregard shown for Mr. Floyd is sickening and leaves everyone, including police officers from our department, shocked, appalled, and infuriated,” Wright said. “I’m personally disgusted.”
Wright said that his staff “remain committed to our community to deliver the best service that we can and collectively we must be willing to listen and discuss the realities of policing and identify meaningful solutions.”
He added that while police staff “fully believe in the lawful right to peaceful protests … we do not condone the damage and destruction of property, or injury to persons.”
“I think in each portion of the country there have been different responses by law enforcement to the protests,” he said, “from officers marching alongside the protestors, to other departments having to respond tactically to the damage and destruction that has occurred in many places.”
Wright said that police have received several calls regarding the events surrounding Floyd’s death, and while the inquires have been somewhat generic in nature, “our staff has done the best to answer each” one.‘Actively anti-racist’
People have also turned to the faith community for guidance.
The rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Rev. Dee Anne Dodd, said Monday that some of her colleagues in the clergy attended protest events last weekend.
While she would not personally promote attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic, “I’m all for that they’re happening,” she said.
During her sermon Sunday, which was the Christian holiday of Pentecost, Dodd reminded parishioners to be mindful that “we follow a dark-skinned man who was unjustly killed by the state, and that’s our starting point,” she said.
“We’ve talked about that it’s not enough not to be racist, we have to be actively anti-racist,” she said. “We have to understand that one of the greatest callings of our time is dismantling white supremacy, and that begins by recognizing how we benefit from it, as nice white Christian people, unwittingly sometimes.”
Dodd and a few others founded United Faith Leaders of Wallingford last fall after fliers with a racial message were found in downtown Wallingford. The group continues to meet remotely, she said.