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Norwich — The Aug. 9 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., was closer to southeastern Connecticut’s minority community than the several hundred miles that separate the regions.
About 40 people gathered in the Norwich City Hall courtyard Friday for a nearly two-hour vigil and rally to drive home the point that all communities are connected, or at least should be, in their calls for justice from police, the public and government leaders.
Speeches paused at one point to allow the Norwich Freedom Bell to ring 18 times to signify the 18 years of Brown’s life.
Tariko Satterfield Sr., a family liaison specialist for two Norwich elementary schools and CEO of the youth advocacy group ReaLifEmpire, knows what it’s like for a police officer to point a gun in his face.
Satterfield was a teacher at East Lyme High School in 2009 working late one night. He had a good chat with a janitor and about a half-hour later saw several police cars with lights flashing converge on the school. Worried that there might be a major emergency, he left the building to see what was wrong.
An officer shouted for him to put his hands in the air and stop walking. He complied. She pointed a gun to his face. He thought about his pregnant wife.
“All I said to the lady was, ‘Ma’am, please don’t pull the trigger,’” he said.
Another officer soon approached, took the school ID badge hanging from his neck and said, “He works here.” Satterfield asked the officers what happened to trigger their response.
“We got a call that there was a black man in the building,” and that the man was robbing the school, an officer told him.
“I don’t come to you with a message of hate,” Satterfield said Friday. Instead, he and a dozen other speakers called for unity in the face of continued racism, racial profiling and violence in the streets of America.
Friday’s vigil was sponsored by the Norwich branch of the NAACP, the Norwich Area Clergy Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Norwich NAACP President Jacqueline Owens said the event was to show support for the national organization’s call for an independent investigator to take over the case in Ferguson to determine whether police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, should be charged in the case.
Some witnesses have said Brown had raised his hands in surrender when the fatal shots were fired.
“We need the United States Department of Justice to bring justice to the family of Michael Brown,” Owens said.
Dr. Michelle Dunlap, speaking as a community member and a mother of young black men, said she has heard the criticism that the black community hasn’t shown similar outrage when it comes to “black on black crime.” Dunlap said the term itself is questionable, because when one white man kills another, or a white husband kills his wife, no one in the media calls it “white on white crime.” It’s just called crime.
“I believe our communities are very concerned when our children are being killed, no matter who is doing it,” Dunlap said.
Leo Butler, diversity director at Norwich Free Academy, said he recently went to the St. Louis area to visit his 92-year-old second cousin. When the Michael Brown shooting and protests occurred, Butler said it reminded his family of a brutal killing of a black man many years earlier that drew no response from local police.
His cousin was upset, Butler said, “because after all those years, we didn’t get it right.”
Mayor Deberey Hinchey cited two quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calling for a “beloved community” of justice and possibly needing some “creative tension” — protests, outcries and demands for equality — to get there.
“Let the Brown family know that their unspeakable loss has affected us toward change,” Hinchey said.