The Greater Hartford chapter of ‘Showing Up for Racial Justice’ (SURJ) held a silent protest in West Hartford Center Thursday, followed by a march to the police station.
By Ronni Newton
A crowd of people, most of whom were white and most of whom were wearing white shirts, stood silently at the corner of North Main Street and Farmington Avenue early Thursday evening. They covered their mouths with their hands, which bore the words “End white silence.”
Many in the crowd of approximately 100 also held handmade signs with messages like “Stop killing Black people,” and others carried “Black Lives Matter” posters distributed by the Greater Hartford chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), the organization that staged the demonstration. Participants also held signs bearing names of many Black people killed in confrontations with police, people were asked to sign a petition condemning anti-Black police violence.
SURJ was participating in a national day of collective action for justice, designated as July 21, and #FreedomNow demonstrations like the one in West Hartford were held in support throughout the country.
“We’re working to mobilize White people to show up for racial justice,” said Rev. Cathy Rion Starr of the Unitarian Society of Hartford who is also one of the SURJ organizers. “We know when we are silent we allow that violence to continue,” said Starr, who is a West Hartford resident.
“White people need to work with Black organizations to end police violence,” she said.
The demonstrators remained silent as they slowly marched around the Connecticut Veteran’s Memorial, down Farmington Avenue, across the street, and down South Main Street where they crossed into Blue Back Square with the sound of carillon bells from First Church West Hartford’s Thursday night concert echoing in the background. The group paused several times before reaching the steps of the West Hartford Police Station on Raymond Road.
Starr said that SURJ is asking police to condemn anti-Black violence. “I think every police officer would stand behind us. It takes folks inside and outside the system to change it,” said Starr. She did acknowledge that she was aware of the “Open Letter to our Community” that West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove issued on Monday.
At the police station, the silence was finally broken. “We are here to disrupt that narrative, that narrative of silence, of ignorance, of supremacy, of hatred, of violence,” said SURJ organizer Erica Richmond. “We are here today to say that Black lives matter.”
“Black lives matter,” chanted the group, over and over.
“We support free speech and we will continue to protect and serve all in our capacity,” Capt. Frank Fallon, acting as spokesperson for the West Hartford Police Department, said after the demonstration had ended.
Dozens of West Hartford Police were on duty, safely escorting the demonstrators as they crossed through town. Several officers were stationed on the roof of a West Hartford Center building, ensuring safety in the area. One spotted a person on another rooftop, and although the situation turned out not to be of concern, police checked it out just to be sure the venue was safe for all, Fallon said.
“Here in West Hartford police have had a very positive dialogue with the community for a very long time, and we will continue to do that,” he said.
The cost of the police presence for the demonstration could not be confirmed, but one officer was overheard saying it approximated $10,000.
SURJ will hold its next meeting on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, at 5:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Hartford. For more information visit www.showingupforracialjustice.org and www.facebook.com/SURJHartford.
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