Updated: 9:46 p.m.:Video added, Chief Kulhawik interview.
NORWALK, Conn. — Hundreds of people gathered Sunday in Norwalk for a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
The throng shut down northbound Interstate 95 briefly while they walked from the Connecticut Avenue Stop & Shop to Norwalk Police headquarters in South Norwalk. Connecticut Avenue was also closed, as were streets in SoNo.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
Norwalk Common Council member Kadeem Roberts (D-District A) was among those with a bullhorn at police headquarters.
“I spoke to the entire community to let them know that I am hurt and I too see what is going on within the world and especially what had occurred to George Floyd in Minnesota. I expressed that the color of my skin should not determine the outcome if I live or if I die,” he said in an email.
Floyd, 46, died a week ago in Minneapolis. A video of him crying, “I can’t breathe” while a white police officer kneeled on his neck has gone viral and prompted protests nationwide. The officer was fired and subsequently arrested, charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers were also fired.
Protestors nationwide also cite the deaths of EMT Breonna Taylor in her own Kentucky home and jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Adding to tensions are the stories of a black birdwatcher in New York City and CNN journalist Omar Jimenez being demeaned.
While demonstrations in other areas have turned violent, Norwalk’s protest was peaceful, multiple participants say.
“Numerous people thanked me for how our officers handled things,” Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik said. “I walked through the crowd and spoke to many people and they were all very supportive but asked questions on our policies etc. Went very well. I enjoyed speaking with everyone.”
Roberts said he didn’t see any counter protestors and “everyone was there for the one cause.”
“There were people from all over, Bridgeport, Wilton, Stamford,” Jim Russell of Ridgefield said. “My guess is between 500 and 1,000.”
The crowd kept getting bigger and when they started walking down the I-95 ramp, “I thought, OK this is it,” Russell said. “We had six dozen riot police officers. I thought, ‘Oh, they’ll stop us.’ No, they were actually there to provide for our safety and they did a wonderful job.”
“The protesters entered the highway. We tried to protect them from traffic as they marched and walked towards our headquarters,” Kulhawik said.
I-95 was closed for about 20 minutes, Russell estimated. Mayor Harry Rilling joined the march and everyone had their Constitutional right to speak, Russell said.
“I believe we should all be treated equally and right now in the world we are not,” Roberts wrote in an email. “There are many African Americans within the world who have or are facing police brutality and are being murder in the act of law enforcement. We need many of those in law enforcement to be retrained and held accountable. We should not as African Americans nervous or afraid of those we believe are here to protect and serve our community!”
It happens in Norwalk, Roberts said.
“I asked everyone in the crowd at the end of the protest to count to 3 and scream the individuals name who had lost their life to police brutality and we ended with a moment of Silence! This was a statement to the community, that we Norwalk Citizens can come together and participate in a peaceful protest but march together in solidarity in a fight for justice with everyone Black, white, latino, and all races,” Roberts said. “I am so proud of Norwalk and TODAY WE STOOD FOR EVERYTHING! I’m grateful for the entire city that came out in full support! #NORWALKSTRONG”
National news coverage has focused on a the “teeny weeny” portion of people who have been violent during the protests but there were families out in Norwalk, mothers with babies in carriages and a father with his daughter on his shoulders, Russell said.
“This whole day has really made me think about white privilege and how it’s destroying this country,” Russell said. “And I’m in the middle of it. I want to start the discussion with my Monday men’s group to talk about it. What can we do?”
The week has been a wake-up call, he said. “This is going on over and over and over. I was in six different places today, a lot of white people are saying this is enough. We don’t want our society to be what our police officer believed it to be, as he kneeled down and kills a person.”
“I thought the protest was very POWERFUL and it was touching to see so many people show up to protest injustice,” Chevel Barret of Norwalk said in an email. “The Norwalk protest along with the others across this country and the world really proves that people are paying attention and are just as willing to give to a cause greater than themselves. I am very hopeful that change will happen and someday will be proud to say I played a small yet instrumental role in that.”