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Close to a thousand join Black Lives Matter march through Groton

Groton — With traffic shut down, close to 1,000 people marched 3 miles Sunday along Route 1 from Poquonnock Plains Park to the City Municipal Building, in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest organized by Fitch High School students.

Nanayaa Ali, a rising senior at Fitch, said she was watching another video about police brutality and felt fed up, and instead of commenting on Instagram, she decided to gather her friends. As someone who "used to not be able to talk to people," she was surprised to be able to make this happen, to see several hundred people show up.

"It's not people of color versus the police; it's racists versus nonracists in order to make a change," said Amara Robinson, 17.

"Black lives matter, but 'matter' is the minimum. Black lives are worthy, black lives are loved, black lives are needed," she said.

On the way to the municipal building, the march stopped near Big Y, and people took a knee and raised their fists. The size of the crowd meant that when the organizers at the front called for a moment of silence, the call-and-response chants of "hands up" "don't shoot" ended not at once but in a wave.

Other chants throughout the march had protesters saying the names of black men and women killed by police: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland.

Dominic Mantovani, 5 1/2, seemed to enjoy leading the call-and-response chant of "Say her name!" from his stroller.

His mother, Groton resident Briana Clark, said she wants her son "to be on the right side of history. I want him to be a part of history, but I also want him to be on the right side of history."

She said she is proud of Groton for taking a stand, saying she'd be ashamed if the community wasn't.

As with many others, this was her first time out at a protest.

From the steps of the Municipal Building, Robinson told the crowd, "Yes, protesting is amazing and it needs to be done, but it is what we do after we protest that will be the real change."

Fitch High School student Malaya Coleman said that "our president should be a leader, not a bystander" and we need to get him out of office. Another student read a list of demands, such as the ability for people to oversee police union contracts and the end of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields government officials in court.

City Mayor Keith Hedrick encouraged people to register to vote, fill out the 2020 Census, go to city council meetings, and get on boards and commissions.

"Some people are saying, 'I'll be glad when we get back to normal,'" he said. "Normal is what got us here."

The organizers also organized a brief question-and-answer session with City of Groton Police Chief Michael Spellman, who said he'd like to start a Police and Citizens Together program. He said he will get a cup of coffee with anyone, and encouraged people of all races to apply and become a police officer and "be part of the solution." Others at the protest, though, held "defund the police" signs."

Why people march

Fitch High School student Yazmyn Beander, 15, said she came to show her appreciation for what's happening in other cities. She was there with her friend Jess Allen, 15, who said she's "very angry all the time," citing some of what she's learned in her criminology classes at Central Connecticut State University.

New London resident Elpidio Felipe, 25, said he never attended protests in the past, but the killing of George Floyd was the "straw that broke the camel's back." He thought the number of people gathered in Groton was powerful.

"I want cops to be held accountable for what they do. I'm not looking for anything unrealistic," he said, noting that in past instances of police brutality, it was fortunate if the officers were even fired.

Harlan Williams of Ledyard held up a cardboard sign with a message on each side: "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are" and "White privilege doesn't mean your life isn't hard. It means that your skin color isn't making it harder."

Williams and his wife have children ages 10, 7 and 3, and he thinks about the world they're inheriting. He marched because he wanted to be part of a cause bigger than himself.

Qasim Brown, 18, held up a sign reading, "We've been fighting for 400 years and still fighting to this day," which he said was inspired by what boxer Deontay Wilder said two years ago. Working at a swimming pool, Brown has had to deal with kids saying racist things, and it made him think, "Where do they learn this stuff from?"

Another person held up a sign reading, "Racism is taught so let's re-educate."

e.moser@theday.com

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