Protesters answer call to action at Groton sit-in
Groton — More than 50 people peacefully protesting during a Black Lives Matter sit-in Friday afternoon in Washington Park answered a call to action.
“Are we going to be silent when we see racial injustices?” New London City Council President Efrain Dominguez asked.
“No!” the demonstrators shouted in unison.
They echoed a resounding “no,” after he asked each question: “Are we going to be silent when we see police brutality? Are we going to be silent when we see racism displayed before our eyes? Are we going to look the other way when we see discrimination? Are we going to look the other way when our Black and brown brothers are treated unequally in the criminal justice system?”
Later, the crowd knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police May 25 during a routine detainment in Minneapolis. The white former officer who knelt on the handcuffed Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds has been charged with murder in the incident.
We Won’t Stand Down, a recently formed local advocacy group working to enact change in a peaceful manner, organized the sit-in.
Groton resident Sarah Welch said she was inspired to hold the sit-in after attending the Black Lives Matter march in Groton earlier this month.
“When I saw our community come together and how much love we truly have, I thought to myself, we need to do this again,” Welch said. She then connected with We Won’t Stand Down on Facebook and the group helped her organize Friday’s event.
New London resident Wayne Rawls, another organizer, arrived wearing a T-shirt with the message: “I was born Black. I will die Black. I just don’t want to die because I’m Black.”
He said the group wants change, including fair treatment by the police and that Black history be taught in school throughout the year, not only in February, Black History Month. He said he came to the sit-in because he wants his 13-year-old stepson and his 17-year-old daughter to see change.
Dena Avery of Norwich, another organizer, also said her personal experience inspired her to get involved.
“It’s having been pre-judged myself," she said. “It’s having been oppressed. I’m Native American from the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and I’ve lived my whole life with trying to fit in to the white man’s world and that is not OK. It’s not acceptable. My mother who was proud, beautiful, full-blooded Passamaquoddy Indian had to bury her heritage because she was raising a family in the '60s and '70s. That’s why I’m here. For her.”
During the sit-in, attendees applauded as speakers spoke out against racial injustice.
“It is not the burden of Black people to destroy the institution of racism,” said Groton resident Josh Brown, an educator. “We didn’t create it.”
Marcela Lee, who recently was called a racial slur by a customer at a Starbucks in Norwich, said that her story is proof that racism is very much still alive, right here, right now.
“Give me the equality, the humanity that I deserve,” Lee said during her speech. “I’m no less. Let me say it again in a calm voice: I am no less. Let me say it a little louder for you: I am no less. They are no less. We are no less.”
“It’s time for you to turn your disbelief, your disagreement, your prejudice, your privilege, all of it, and turn it into love and understanding,” said Luther Wade, one of the founders of the anti-racism activist group B.A.G4CHANGE.
Both Groton Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky and City Mayor Keith Hedrick were at the sit-in. Hedrick addressed people in a speech encouraging them to get involved and hold elected officials accountable.
Lauren Gee, who works at her family’s funeral home, Lester Gee Funeral Home in New London, brought a hearse displaying names of Black people killed by police. She said she was showing up for her community and also believes funeral directors, who sit down and form close relationships with families after they experience loss, should partake in these conversations.
“I may have not been at a table with a family that has lost a loved one due to police brutality, but I have been at tables with people that have lost loved ones to brutality in general, so I can only imagine what that’s like for families to sit there and the person that caused them that pain is the person that’s supposed to be standing up for us,” she said.
New London resident Cheyenne Coleman attended the sit-in with her family, including her cousins, goddaughter, and 7-year old daughter, Ki’Myia Gatson, to keep up the momentum and make sure nobody forgets that Black lives matter. Coleman said they have been protesting for her daughter’s whole life.
“She has a long life to live, so things need to change now so that when she gets to my age — 32 — it’ll be a better outlook on life,” Coleman said of her daughter. “When she’s ready to have kids, maybe they won’t have to protest in the streets and watch it on TV.”
Her cousin Karla Gathers-Jones said people should use "their white privilege for good" and told the story of how her best friend saw a man in the store being racist to a Black man for going the wrong way. Her friend spoke up and said that he didn’t say anything to her when she walked past him going the wrong way, and yet he yelled at another person for going the wrong way because he’s a Black man.
Laquesha Frieson, also a cousin, said it’s important to understand that this isn’t "a one-day thing" and change doesn’t happen overnight, yet some people think of the protests as more of a fad and then forget about it once the news dies down.
“To us, it’s still real, it’s still happening, so while it’s easy for everybody else to go about their lives, we still have to live this day to day. We can’t let it go,” said Frieson, adding that they have kids who will have kids and their own grandparents marched before them.
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