Outside Greenwich Town hall on Saturday about 800 people turned out for Indivisible Greenwich’s rally to honor George Floyd and support protections of the First Amendment freedoms of speech and to peacefully assemble.
In Minneapolis on May 25, George Floyd was pinned face down on the ground in handcuffs by a white police officer who pressed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Mr. Floyd’s death has been ruled as a homicide and charges against Officer Derek Chauvin were upgraded to murder second degree.
Indivisible’s “Greenwich Cares” protest was the biggest in Greenwich this week, following Monday’s impromptu protest outside the Greenwich Police headquarters, which drew about 150 people, and Friday’s 8.46 mile march organized by a GHS sophomore that drew about 300 participants.
Saturday’s event was attended by people of all ages who fanned out across the the town hall lawns and across Field Point Rd in front of office buildings.
Present were State Senator Alex Kasser (D-36), State Rep Steve Meskers (D-150), and Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo. All were reminded to practice social distancing. Everyone wore masks and most people dressed in black.
The message was unmistakable: Systemic racism is unacceptable.
Speakers included Indivisible Greenwich co-founder Joanna Swomley, former Selectman Sandy Litvack, US Congressman Jim Himes and Reverend Thomas L. Nins.
Greenwich Reform Synagogue member Rabbi Joui Hessel shared a message from Rabbi Gerson.
“The issue of police brutality in America and the brutalization of black bodies is not new. It’s certainly not a revelation,” she said. “It goes back to Rodney King, and before that to the lynchings of black men all over the American south, and before that, to slavery. It is a horrible and unforgivable stain and sickness on our country, and it flies in the face of American rhetoric about liberty and freedom for all.”
“White people have utterly failed our black brothers and sisters despite our allyship in the civil rights movement under Dr. King,” she added to applause. “And how do we know we failed? We know this because George Floyd’s murder was not a surprise. We know this because my black friends, though they exist in a constant state of fear, vigilance and heartbreak, also expect these things to happen now.”
“I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding – Christian Cooper
I can go jogging – Amaud Arbery
I can relax in the comfort of my own home – Bothem Sean and Atatiana Jefferson
I can ask for help after being in a car crash – Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBridge
I can have a cellphone – Stephon Clark
I can leave a party to get to safety – Jordan Edwards
I can play loud music – Jordan Davis
I can sell CDs – Alton Sterling
I can sleep – Aiyana Jones
I can walk from the corner store – Mike Brown
I can play cops and robbers – Tamir Rice
I can go to church – Charleston 9
I can walk home with Skittles – Trayvon Martin
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party – Sean Bell
I can party on New Years – Oscar Grant
I can get a normal traffic ticket – Sandra Bland
I can lawfully carry a weapon – Philando Castile
I can break down on a public road with car problems – Corey Jones
I can shop at Walmart – John Crawford
I can have a disabled vehicle – Terrence Crutcher
I can read a book in my own car – Keith Scott
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather – Clifford Glover
I can decorate for a party – Claude Reese
I can ask a cop a question – Randy Evans
I can cash a check in peace – Yvonne Smallwood
I can take out my wallet – Amadou Diallo
I can run – Walter Scott
I can breathe – Eric Garner
I can live – Freddie Gray
I can be arrested without the fear of being murdered – George Floyd”
Swomley noted that given the deadly pandemic, she did not take the decision to organize the rally lightly.
“We’re here to mourn. We’re heartbroken. We’re sick at yet another cruel, torturous murder at the hands of those who took an oath to serve and protect those same people,” she said. “We’re desperately sad, and we want public space to mourn. We’re here because there’s a movement going on today that has a chance for real change. It requires our presence and our help to sustain it.”
Swomley said systemic racism exists in every aspect and corner of American society.
“It extends to all aspects of life including as recently seen in the disparity in Covid cases and deaths,” she said.
“Today our focus must be on criminal justice,” Swomley continued, noting issues of racial profiling, harassment, over policing, physical assault and mass incarceration.
Swomley said the reaction to Mr. Floyd’s death and attention to systemic racism were making a difference, and that over 60 similar events were registered in Connecticut on Saturday alone.
Congressman Jim Himes said, “Like all of you I’m saddened. I’m disgusted. I’m broken.”
Himes said he was deeply conscious of his white male privilege.
“One of the attributes of systemic racism that has haunted this country for four centuries is that forever, white men of privilege and power have spoken, and others have listened,” he said.
“Systemic racism is largely about people like me speaking, and others not speaking,” Himes said.
Himes quoted words from Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis from earlier in the week.
“This is a special moment in our history, just as people of all faiths and no faith and all backgrounds, creeds and colors banded together decades ago to fight for equality and justice, in a peaceful, nonviolent orderly fashion, we must do it again….Justice has been denied for too long. Rioting, burning and looting is not the way. Organize. Demonstrate. Sit in. Stand up. Vote. Be constructive, not destructive.” – John Lewis
The last person to take the podium was Dr. Thomas L. Nins, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church and police chaplain, who gave a rousing speech. Nins started out by sharing how he had been the victim of discrimination himself, both for being black and for being part of the police department.
“I stand for a community that is tired of being stood upon,” he said. “People here today under the age of 18 holding up signs that say black lives matter – I stand on your behalf. I stand on behalf of every black man this generation and generations before who have had to walk in fear because they weren’t sure what would happen to them when they saw the siren in their rear view mirror.”
“I have been protesting ever since I was a young man,” Nins continued. “I have been out there fighting the battle, and I’ve got to tell you, those of us who have been out here are sick and tired of fighting the same battle year after year after year.”
Nins sent a message to Republicans.
“Unless and until you say that the Klan is not part of your party. Unless and until you say the Alt-Right is not part of your party. Unless and until you say Neo-Nazis are not welcome in your party, I can’t have nothing to do with you. They got to go,” he said.
“Lastly, there is an election coming,” he said, noting he was not in church or at school or the police station. “I’m speaking for myself,” he said.
“It’s not that the other party walks on water,” Nins said, adding that he was “not thrilled” with the Democratic candidate.
“But at least that party is going to feel some sense of responsibility and obligation to at least give the appearance that they are standing for all people, and not some people in the United States of America,” Nins added, to wide applause.
At the end of the rally Nins led the crowd in chants of “No Justice, No Peace.”
After the event, First Selectman Camillo shared his reflections in an email saying that positive change will come from learning, listening and leading.
“In the large gathering were people of various backgrounds, beliefs and faiths. They joined in a peaceful and respectful call for justice. Also present was our Greenwich Police Dept, which once again showed why we are so proud of them.”