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At youth-led protest in New London, organizers came with list of demands

New London — At least 1,000 people marched peacefully through the streets of New London on Saturday, calling out phrases like “get off my neck” and chanting “no justice, no peace,” demanding that the New London Police Department’s budget be cut and the statue of Christopher Columbus at the intersection of Bank and Blinman Streets be removed.

Protesters first gathered at Parade Plaza, where a hearse was parked with the words “#NotJustFloyd” and “#SayTheirNames” painted on the back window. The names of dozens of black men and women killed by police were pasted on the hearse by protesters, including the names George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, and Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman who was killed by police inside her home in Louisville.

Saturday’s event was primarily organized by the group Hearing Youth Voices and occurred as demonstrations were taking place across the country, including locally, in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“He’s just one of the many, many people. The cup is overflowing and it was George Floyd that overflowed it,” said Ivana Etienne, a 17-year-old black woman and one of the organizers.

Organizers of the event came armed with a list of demands that they asked fellow protesters to support. That list includes giving community members oversight of the police union contract and getting rid of the Police Community Relations Committee and replacing it with an independent review board made up of community members.

“Young people organized this. Young people are clear about what they want. Young people are clear that their schools don’t have what they need, and they’ve been clear about it for a long time. We’re tired of begging people to listen. We’re demanding it now,” said Maya Sheppard, a 27-year-old black woman and one of the organizers.

Kobe Haley, a 27-year-old black man who lives in Waterford and went to New London High School, said he wants more money from the city’s budget to be invested in the community, as opposed to the police department. The New London City Council recently approved a $12.16 million budget for the department.

“It bothers me how we have no community center here, no rec center. There needs to be more done for the youth. It’s unacceptable,” Haley said.

Organizers emphasized at the outset that they wanted the protest to be peaceful and encouraged participants to be safe. New London police Capt. Brian Wright said as protesters began to disperse late Saturday afternoon that there were no arrests made. At least one cop car had red spray paint scrawled across it.

The large and diverse crowd started their march on Water Street and up Gov. Winthrop Boulevard, stopping in front of the New London Police Department, at one point chanting, “hands up, don’t shoot,” before continuing on to Bank Street and then to Montauk Avenue.

Police officers blocked traffic as the protesters moved throughout the city.

At one point, a crowd gathered around the Columbus statue, which some protesters spray-painted red, and shouted “take it down.” Several police officers moved closer, coming face to face with some of the demonstrators, but did not take any action and the crowd eventually moved on.

Just a few hours later, two men, who appeared to be public works employees, were seen power-washing the statue.

Holding a sign that said “I am the future. My life matters,” 12-year-old Joseph Moore of New London said he personally has experienced racism "and I just want that stuff to change in this world.”

Moore recalled how one time when he was with his mother, she asked a man to borrow his phone because hers was dead. The man rolled up his window and called the cops on them, Moore said.

Asked what he hopes comes of the protest, he said, “everybody is treated equally.”

Even younger children held signs with messages like “My life matters too” and “When do I go from cute to dangerous?”

While the recent incidents of police brutality happened far away from New London, some protesters pointed to the deaths of black men by police here, including 32-year-old Dale James in 1993 and 42-year-old Darrell Holeman in 1999.

Varnaud Shamsideen, a 58-year-old black man and lifelong New London resident, said he was impressed by the size and diversity of the crowd Saturday. “I hope people continue to push in a unified manner toward justice for everybody.”

After protesters returned to Parade Plaza, organizers asked for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence for Floyd — reportedly the amount of time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

At the end of the rally, as protesters dispersed, a group gathered at the corner of Bank Street and State Street. A New London police officer stood at the front of the crowd, engaged in conversation with a few black men as Chief Peter Reichard and other officers continued to block traffic on Bank Street. The officer shook hands with several of the protesters as crowds looked on from the sidewalks.

In closing the event, one of the organizers, a young, black female, said “We're never going to stop getting our voices heard until they want listen to us.”

Day Staff Writer Taylor Hartz contributed to this report.

j.bergman@theday.com

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