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Hundreds protest in Norwich, Mystic on Tuesday

Several hundred protesters of different races and ages marched through downtown Norwich early Tuesday night chanting “I can’t breathe!” “Black Lives Matter!” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” as they made their way from City Hall to the police station and back again. 

Several angry participants confronted Police Chief Patrick Daley on the sidewalk in front of the police station, shouting profanities and calling officers “pigs.” The crowd spilled onto Route 32 as police closed a section of the street.

Other speakers attempted to quell the confrontation, calling for a respectful exchange. Speakers took turns using a bullhorn and demanded police treat all people fairly, including those with mental illness. Daley attempted to address the group but was repeatedly shouted down.

Earlier in the day more than 100 people gathered at Liberty Pole Square in downtown Mystic, chanting "Say his name! George Floyd!" and "Black Lives Matter,"as passing vehicles honked their horns.

In Norwich, angry speakers told personal stories of encounters with police. One woman complained that police arrived with guns drawn to a call for a wellness check. Another said officers arrested her boyfriend during a domestic violence incident, when it was her white stepfather who had been abusing her mother and herself. The stepfather was not arrested.

They urged the chief and officer Neil Carmody standing beside him to chant “Black Lives Matter” with them, and they complied.

“No matter what they say right now,” one protester yelled, “they don’t respect us.”

Protesters shouted at two officers watching from the police station roof and called them “snipers.” People emerged from the woods across the street from the police station, and protesters shouted “Who are they?” believing them to be plain-clothes officers. Daley said they were not police officers.

“This is not a show,” one man said. “This is not TV. I live this! I’m scared of you, because of you. Understand that?”

Tiana Waters of Norwich urged the crowd several times to “keep it classy.” She urged anyone who feels uncomfortable in a police encounter to get out their phones and record the incident.

After about an hour at the station, the crowd walked away and headed back toward downtown, still energized and holding up signs and occasionally chanting slogans.

“It’s anger,” Daley said as the crowd walked away. “People got to get it off their chests. I get it. And if you don’t think I hear it, if you’re yelling it at my head with a bullhorn, I do. And everybody here heard the message.”

Norwich protest organized by NFA student  

The Norwich demonstration was organized by Trinity Cote of Norwich, a 17-year-old Norwich Free Academy senior who simply posted an invitation on Facebook to "gather" at City Hall for a march to the police station. The crowd quickly swelled to several hundred, most carrying signs with a myriad of slogans, simple and complex.

"It's crazy!" she said at the start of the rally about 4 p.m. "I didn't expect it to be this big!"

Certified nurse's aid Paulette Belin of Norwich made a sign that compared racist killings to the coronavirus: "Pandemic Frontline Worker Essential to Fight the Racism, Violence Killing Black People for Years! We won't Dissipate until AmeriKKKa Vaccinates!"

Skipping the typical speeches, Cote addressed the crowd just long enough to urge them to start marching. With a police cruiser leading the group, protesters marched and chanted different slogans on their way to the police station.

On the first loop, the group made a turn through the police station parking lot and headed back to City Hall, where speaker after speaker led chants and urged action. At one point, dozens of participants lay prone on the stone pavers, clasped their hands behind their backs and yelled: "I can't breathe!"

One man called for nine minutes of silence, marking the length of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck. "Pray for somebody," he said.

The crowd, though, became restless with three minutes to go in the silent period.

"This is a long time to be lying with a knee on your neck," someone yelled.

"How do you think he felt to be in that position for nine minutes?" another said.

Noontime protest in downtown Mystic

In Mystic, the crowd included people of all ages and many young people, holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe,” “Truth + Justice,” “White Silence = Violence,” and “No Justice, No Peace!”

Rise Up Mystic, a grassroots organization, plans to stand in support of Black Lives Matter from noon to 1 p.m. each day this week. Seeing protests across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death, Rise Up Mystic member Lorraine Tamsky said she wanted to bring people together to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

"I think it's important that it's a community effort," Tamsky said.

Amara Robinson, 17, of Groton held a sign that said: “It is not enough to be quietly non-racist. Now is the time to be vocally anti-racist.”

“I think it’s important to stand up for your beliefs and values,” Robinson said, “and I think with what’s going on in the world today, it’s important to show that I’m not going to stand for it and that changes need to be made.”

She said people need to speak out against racism and she’d like to see communities coming together as one.

“I’d like to see the divide between police and civilians be not there anymore and that the police stand with the civilians and that the civilians aren’t anti-police either,” Robinson added. “I’d like to see unity.”

A Fitch High School student who is white, black and Native American, Robinson said she has been called the “N word” multiple times at school. She also said she thinks the kids of color are held more responsible for their actions at school than the kids who aren’t of color. She said whether everyone gets in trouble or no one gets in trouble, the actions need to be equal toward all students.

Brooklyn resident Johrdyn Horwath said she was motivated by her older son to come to the protest on Tuesday.

“We came out here because I have a son who is part black, and I thought it was important to teach him what’s going on before he becomes another statistic or he experiences this on his own,” Horwath said.

Her older son, Kenneth, 7, held a sign that said “My Life Matters,” while his brother, Liam, 5, held a sign saying “My Brother’s Life Matters.”

Horwath said her older son experienced issues with racism at his former school in Lyme and the family always talked about race and how color doesn’t define someone.

“I want him to see that we’re here to help you: everybody,” she said, as she stood among people holding signs in solidarity. “All these people are here to say look, yeah, you do matter.”

Portia Bordelon, a Groton resident who serves on the Town Council, said she came to peacefully make a statement for her community, herself, her family and for everybody.

“It’s good to see the community come out and peacefully protest and stand up against the injustice in our country,” Bordelon said. “As a mother of two black boys, I think it’s scary times, and there is a difference in how people are being treated. Acknowledgment is important. That’s the first step.”

Jason Hine, administrator with Rise Up Mystic, said he was glad to see many people speaking up and showing support for Black Lives Matter.

"We feel that as progressive-minded people that not all voices are being heard and we think that black voices need to be heard," he said of Rise Up Mystic organizing the event. "We do think black lives matter and we are trying to show our support for people who have been kept out in a lot of ways and who have suffered and so we're just supporting peaceful change."

Holding a sign with that said "I can't breathe," which were among Floyd's last words, Ellie Coffey of Pawcatuck said more needs to be done on every level: "I'm just so sick of all the unfairness," she said.

Like many people gathered on Tuesday, Coffey is white and said it's important for white people to stand up against racism in society. She said she is reading more and more about how to be anti-racist.

Charlotte Kading of Pawcatuck held a sign that said "White Silence=Violence."

"I want to show my neighbors and everybody visiting Mystic that this is what we stand for in our community," Kading said. "We don't stand for: violent racism, any racism, police brutality, leaving our neighbors and anybody to die the way people are being killed."

k.drelich@theday.com

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