A Full Weekend of Protests Against Police Brutality

Protesters gathered in Hartford, Stamford, and New Haven in the wake of Daunte Wright’s murder to demand justice for victims of police violence in Connecticut.

For safety and solidarity, the faces and names of some individuals have been obscured or redacted.

by Fiona Mac, Mairead McElroy, & Mick Theebs

Hartford

In Hartford at noon Friday the 16th, protesters gathered under the awning outside of the State Capitol building, and tried to stay as warm and dry as possible. The event started with a man welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming, while pointing out the rows of signs lining the giant pillars of the Capitol with names and pictures of victims who have died at the hands of Connecticut Police. Some of these killings go back as far as the nineties, but the majority seemed to be within the last five years. 

The speaker then turned the floor over to Valerie, the mother of Steven Barrier, a 23-year-old man who died in Stamford Police custody in 2019. Valerie spoke of how Steven was having a mental health crisis and needed medical care, not to be thrown into a police car and detained. She emphasized that the police drove past a hospital on the way to the police station and could have stopped. Valerie explained how she has a hole in her heart that can never be filled and wants better mental health crisis support available to everyone in Connecticut. In body cam videos released to the public viewers can hear officers while apprehending Steven stop to check his pulse a couple of times, which begs the question, why would police take an unresponsive person into custody and not get a medical professionals opinion before booking Steven? The same speaker who introduced Valerie also brought up how a police officer joked about “rolling his ass down the hill” while arresting Steven. Valerie is filing a lawsuit against Stamford Police, saying there was an unnecessary use of force used in Steven’s arrest. 

Another speaker at the event was Jayson Negron’s sister. Jayson was a 15-year-old child when Bridgeport police shot and killed him and severely injured another passenger over a stolen car. Jayson’s sister said that although he stole a car, a car is just property but Jayson was irreplaceable. She also said that after the two were shot they were denied any medical attention and left to die on the street. James Boulay, the police officer who shot Jayson, is still employed, has been given multiple pay raises, and has been the recipient of awards for policing since the murder in 2017.

The last two speakers were the sister and a close friend of Mubarak Soulemane, or “Mubi,” a 19-year-old who was shot seven times by State Trooper Brian North while having a schizophrenic episode. Mubarak’s sister said she wants accountability for the officer involved and wished that she could have seen Mubarak accomplish his dreams and that it’s unfair his life was cut so short. Mubarak’s friend talked about how she is an advocate for many things and she was recently at the Capitol Building for a climate justice event, an interest she shared with Mubarak. She never imagined she would have to become an advocate for Mubarak. The friend also mentioned she did not think police can be reformed and called for people to continue fighting to defund and abolish the police. 

Other people spoke about how they want legislators to invite them into the Capitol to have a conversation and said they are tired of standing out in the cold to demand justice. They also said they want Connecticut legislators to not just talk about the national headlines about police brutality, citing Minneapolis where the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd was underway at the time, and new protests have started in response to the police killing of Daunte Wright, but to focus on the police brutality happening within our state, now. Other protesters said they don’t want to work with these legislators who they feel have been given ample time to react and make change, and instead want new ones that will pledge to take more serious action about these issues. 

Stamford

On Saturday, April 17th, roughly fifty demonstrators assembled in front of the Beacon hotel/apartments in Harbor Point in Stamford demanding justice for Steven Barrier, Jayson Negron, Mubarak Soulemane, and more generally an end to the country-wide brutality that the police routinely inflicts on the population, particularly against Black and brown people. 

Protesters marched roughly a mile and a half from Harbor Point to the Stamford Police station, where 23-year-old Steven Barrier died in custody in 2019 after being abused and not given treatment for his mental or physical health. Though the march blocked parts of major arteries running through the city including Washington Boulevard, Broad Street, and Bedford Street, the crowd was generally met with support from bystanders and onlookers, with car horns sounding in support and many passersby raising their fists in solidarity. Some folks were so enthusiastic that they joined the group and marched and chanted their way to the police station as well.

Once they reached their destination of the Stamford Police station, speakers took turns addressing the crowd to cover a wide array of issues. Naturally, there were calls to defund if not outright abolish the police, pointing to the widespread violence they inflict on the population every day as justification, as well as the absurd amount of money they receive in order to function as what is essentially an occupying force against people of color and the poor. Additionally, there was a plea for unity among all people of color, as well as criticism leveled against the Biden administration for continuing the Trump administration’s policy of deportation. One speaker took the time to read a poem they composed for the occasion, aptly titled “Bad Apples” that served as a scathing criticism of the institution of the police.

Some chose to speak about issues and movements specific to Connecticut. One such issue is the Drop the Charges movement led by the Stamford Mass Defense Coalition, which is an effort to get charges leveled against several Stamford protesters who were arrested during a similar demonstration against police brutality last summer.

Another speaker talked about corruption in our state government and how elections work within Connecticut, specifically citing our state’s inability to address the opioid epidemic, an issue that is intimately linked to policing as it falls under the purview of enforcing drug policy.

The crowd was also provided with an update on the lawsuit Steven Barrier’s family is filing against the Stamford police. Part of the lawsuit includes an injunctive relief that stipulates the establishment of a 24/7 mental health crisis response team that exists entirely separate from the police, something that has never existed in the city of Stamford before. Because Steven Barrier was having a mental health crisis when he died at the hands of police, this move will help ensure that no other family has to experience the pain and grief of having a loved one met with violence when they just need medical attention. 

Another speaker raised awareness for another victim named Erika Riccardi, who was found dead with a bullet wound in her chest. Erika was the girlfriend of a police officer named Greg LaRoche. According to the speaker, the bullet found in Erika’s chest matched Greg LaRoche’s gun though he was never charged with a crime connected to her death. In an intersection between Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, they went on to describe LaRoche’s history of intimidating and harassing women and how he is still employed by the Stamford Police. 

The lineup of speakers concluded with a final call to end police brutality and emphasized the power of protest to enact change. This also served as a reminder that there is currently an effort within Connecticut and extending throughout the entire country to curtail the rights of protestors in order to prevent revolutionary change. In an effort to combat the erosion of the rights of protestors, activists will be hosting a rally on May 8th at the Stamford Government Center starting at 1pm.

After all the speakers said their piece, the crowd marched back to Harbor Point chanting and holding a banner reading Blue Lives Murder with horns sounding in support. 

New Haven

The third rally of the weekend took place in New Haven on Sunday afternoon, April 18th. Originally planned as a vigil for victims of police violence, the event was transformed into a rally in line with the other two events in Hartford and Stamford.

A crowd of about one hundred protesters congregated outside of New Haven City Hall, across from the historic Green. The co-chairs of the New Haven branch of Central Connecticut DSA were briefly introduced as the organizers, and then the crowd began to march to the headquarters of the Yale Police Department.

Yale employs 93 armed officers, who have jurisdiction not only on Yale’s campus but also across New Haven due to the policy of triple occupation that gives officers from Yale and Hamden the same power and access as New Haven’s own police department. The march proceeded down city streets and through Yale’s campus, chanting calls to abolish the police departments of Yale, New Haven, and Hamden. The marchers also chanted their support of funding healthcare and education instead of police. As the crowd passed through the Yale campus, leaders remarked on the university’s historic ties to slavery.

After about fifteen minutes of marching, the crowd arrived at the Yale Police Department and gathered in the intersection of Ashmun and Lock Streets. Organizers and the Socialist Resurgence Pop-Up Revolutionary Bookstore set up on the sidewalk corner in front of the Rose Center, which houses the police department.

Justin Farmer, Hamden city councilman, began by asking the crowd to take a knee for nine minutes and 29 seconds, the amount of time Derek Chauvin spent kneeling on the neck of George Floyd in Minneapolis, resulting in Floyd’s death. After the time had elapsed, Farmer led the crowd in singing the first verse of We Shall Overcome. Farmer then spoke of his experience with police in Hamden and New Haven, as well as segregation and gentrification he has witnessed in New Haven.

He reflected on the earliest part of his life, which was spent in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven until his family was forced to move to Hamden due to rising rent prices and gentrification. He questioned what his life might look like today if he had remained in East Rock for his childhood, explaining that simply the zip code a person is raised in can determine that person’s success throughout their life.

The next speaker was a teenager from Sunrise New Haven. She powerfully and emotionally described the distress that she and other Black Americans experience from a young age, seeing their peers and family as well as other Black people across the nation experience violence at the hands of police.

She also spoke about the discrepancy between affluent and low-income neighborhoods in New Haven, drawing attention to Mayor Justin Elicker’s attempt to crack down on citizens riding quads in city streets. She argued that quads are a popular hobby that should be permitted, and although it might seem disruptive in quiet, affluent neighborhoods populated primarily by white citizens, she had never personally been upset with the noise. She is, however, frequently disrupted and awoken by police sirens in her neighborhood late at night. 

Representatives from other New Haven organizations spoke as well. A member of the Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN) spoke about the frequent assault and harrassment that sex workers, homeless people, and drug users suffer at the hands of police in New Haven—including two sex workers who say they were raped by New Haven police officer Gary Gamarra, who has admitted to having sex with both women but has not been fired or charged with rape. In these circumstances, the officer has the legal authority to decide whether or not the sexual encounter constituted rape. Advocates for victims of police assault have criticized this as a blatant conflict of interest.

Another group, Seeds and Sprouts, spoke about the carceral nature of the mental health system, and why such practices are damaging to people seeking aid with their mental health. 

After all speakers had finished, the remaining crowd of a few dozen people began to walk back to the New Haven Green. The smaller crowd was unofficially led by two members of Bridgeport Strong, and stuck mostly to sidewalks until they took the street and marched down Elm street for the few blocks between Broadway and the Green. 

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