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Demonstrators continue rallies for Crystal Caldwell in Stonington

Stonington — They’re going to keep coming back on Sundays until Crystal Caldwell sees justice.

That’s what Sean Dinwoodie, one of the organizers of Sunday’s Peace & Justice Rally 4 Crystal Caldwell, said.

Caldwell, 59, of Groton, a clerk at the Quality Inn in Mystic, has said that on June 26, a white New York couple called her an “old monkey” and told her “Black Lives Matter? Your life doesn’t matter, you don’t deserve to live on this earth,” while beating her after complaining about the lack of hot water in their room.

Stonington police faced backlash because they did not apprehend the couple before they fled the state once they were released from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital a few hours following the attack.

A crowd of approximately 120 people or more, including those of all ages and races, gathered across the street from the Stonington Police Department on Sunday to witness activists, singers, dancers, poets, political leaders and others voice support for Caldwell and lobby for equality. People held signs saying "Justice for Crystal" and "Black Lives Matter," among other messages.

Shortly before the event, Caldwell spoke to the news media. She expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support from private citizens, businesses and public figures since she suffered the attack.

Caldwell sustained a concussion, a swollen face and a badly injured right eye, along with injuries to her wrists and ribs and back in two separate attacks. All three people involved were brought to the hospital after the incident, as the couple requested treatment as well.

Sunday’s rally was the fifth such event in support of Caldwell. Organizers and activists said citizens will continue to hold rallies for Caldwell because their faith in the justice system eroded after Stonington police’s management of the case.

The couple accused of beating Caldwell were extradited to Connecticut on July 13 before being released on bond. Philip Sarner, 39, and Emily Orbay, 27, were arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 13 by U.S. marshals and the New York Police Department on warrants issued by the Stonington Police Department charging them with a hate crime and assault, according to the Stonington police.

The pair are accused of beating Caldwell twice on June 26 while she was working at the front desk of the hotel. Surveillance camera footage from the hotel shows a white man punching, pushing and kicking Caldwell. Orbay was charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias and third-degree assault and was released on a $50,000 bond. Sarner, who was charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias, second-degree assault and third-degree assault, was released on a $75,000 bond.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal was one of the first to address the crowd on Sunday.

“Thank you for your courage, your strength, to show us Black lives matter,” Blumenthal said to demonstrators. “And we want justice for Crystal Caldwell. We’re here to demand justice for Crystal Caldwell.”

Blumenthal advocated for the “full weight of the law (to) be brought to bear” on Caldwell’s alleged attackers. He said attendees “are at the point of the spear” in a national movement, referring to ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in light of recent instances of police violence against Black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Blumenthal added that he will support legislation to try to eradicate hate crimes. He touted the police accountability bill that passed through the Connecticut legislature last week. And he said he was a proponent of independent review boards for police departments.

Before concluding, Blumenthal made a final point about frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On that day Crystal was assaulted, she was just doing her job, she was reporting to work, she was on duty in the midst of a pandemic,” Blumenthal said. “We need hazardous duty pay for all of those frontline workers.”

Blumenthal then thanked Caldwell directly for her courage.

Caldwell’s attorney, John Strafaci, thanked local, state and national leaders for coming to Sunday’s rally. He called out state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, for not showing up to back Caldwell.

“I don’t know, the weather’s nice, maybe (Somers is) out sailing with her friends from the yacht club, but she has not been anywhere to be heard,” Strafaci said.

Strafaci introduced “Crystal’s Law,” which he called an amendment to existing law that would strengthen hate crime legislation in Connecticut. He said he and Caldwell are working with state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, Rep. Kate Rotella, D-Stonington, Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, and others to bring “Crystal’s Law” to fruition.

Wayne Rawls, Caldwell’s nephew, said the people continually protesting on behalf of his aunt “feel like family” to him.

He said of Sarner and Orbay, “They had the nerve to go out and hire one of the highest-priced attorneys in the state, are you serious? You got the video, and you’re going to represent these pieces of crap?”

Records show Sarner and Orbay are being represented by Pattis & Smith Law Firm based in New Haven.

Groton Town Councilor Portia Bordelon, a Black woman, spoke of her two sons.

“I have two Black boys, 14 and 17,” Bordelon said. “I’ve always worried about their fate. … I shouldn’t have to teach them how to protect themselves when confronted by a law enforcement individual I pay as a taxpayer.”

New London City Council President Efrain Domginuez, Rev. Sunil Chandy from the Christ Church in Westerly, event organizer RaéVen Kelly Dinwoodie, musician, poet and scholar Felicia Hurley and others gave remarks and performances. Attorney General William Tong and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, both of whom had planned to be at the rally, had statements read on their behalf.

Anne Pearce of The Peace & Justice Group of Westerly referenced U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who died this month, in her comments.

“In the words of civil rights legend John Lewis, ‘When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something,’” Pearce said. “The police’s failure to protect (Caldwell) under the law and to arrest the criminals who attacked her was not right, not fair and not just.”

Pearce and others said it was wrong to allow the accused New Yorkers out on bail.

New London City Councilor Kevin Booker gave an impassioned speech folding in the attack on Caldwell with “400 years of systemic racism and oppression.” He quoted Langston Hughes while contextualizing what happened to Caldwell within Black American history.

“Langston Hughes, one of the greatest poets, once said, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’” Booker began. “‘Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun? Or fester, like a sore, and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat, or crust and sugar over, like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load, or does it explode?’ Our dream today, the dream of making sure the Black Lives Matter movement will continue — this dream will not be silenced!”

Sarner and Orbay are set to be arraigned in New London on August 7. 

s.spinella@theday.com

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