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NAACP holds rally against racism in New London

New London — About 85 people gathered Saturday afternoon on Parade Plaza for a rally organized by the NAACP to bring the community together on the heels of a racially charged fight involving the high school football team and the death of a Bahamian man while in police custody.


“Because you showed up today, it tells us all that there are some people in this city, in this world who care about justice in this city and in the world,” Donald Wilson, president of the New London branch of the NAACP, said.


Among those who attended the rally Saturday were relatives of Lashano Gilbert, the 31-year-old Bahamas native who died early on Oct. 4 after police used a Taser on him twice within an eight-hour period. A violent struggle with officers in the holding cell area of police headquarters precipitated the use of the Taser, police said.


“It’s tough to know that he’s gone,” Gilbert’s cousin, Kasi Fletcher, said. “And it’s tough that we have to stand here and voice these kinds of concerns in 2014.”


Gilbert had been taken into custody several hours before his death after he allegedly jumped into the open window of a car at Williams and Broad streets. He appeared to be in an altered state, speaking in a bizarre manner and motioning as if he were attempting to stab the driver, police said. Officers first used a Taser on him to get him into custody.


Fletcher said Saturday that Gilbert’s body will be returned to the Bahamas, where he will be buried. Fletcher said his family was told they had only until this past Friday to make arrangements for Gilbert’s body, or else it would be cremated by the state.


The family did not have enough money to ship Gilbert’s body back to the Bahamas, but a funeral home director in Florida offered to coordinate the transport and temporarily cover the associated costs, Fletcher said.


State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, said he attended Saturday’s rally to show his support for the Gilbert family. Last session, he said, the state legislature passed a law that will require police departments to adopt written policies governing the use of Tasers and will make it mandatory for the department to document and report any use of a Taser.


The law will become effective Jan. 1, 2015, but Hewett said he would support additional research on the use of electronic defense weapons.


The new legislation “may not go far enough, maybe we need to put a moratorium on Tasing until we know exactly what Tasing does to the body,” Hewett said. “I would rather a police officer use a less-than-lethal weapon first instead of pulling out that 9 mm, but I think it is also important that we see all the facts about Tasing.”


The rally, which included a prayer, chants, short speeches and songs, also called attention to the fight that erupted in Plainfield following a football game between New London and Plainfield on Sept. 26.


As the New London team walked through a group of Plainfield fans to get to the team bus, some of the fans “taunted the players and yelled racial slurs” before the altercation broke out, according to New London High School Principal William “Tommy” Thompson III.


Two former Plainfield High School students were arrested and charged with second-degree breach of peace and banned from future events on school grounds after the fight.


Saturday’s rally also included members of the NAACP’s New London and Norwich youth councils, Hearing Youth Voices, Writers Block Ink, and F.R.E.S.H. New London.


“It’s really impressive to see all the youth groups involved today and all the parents who brought their children out today,” Reona Dyess, an advisor to the NAACP New London Youth Council, said. “It’s important because it’s promoting peace and taking an active role in the community.”


Twitter: @ColinAYoung


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