NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk streets were shut down Sunday by a small group of Black Lives Matter supporters, chanting, “You will hear us” and “it’s not over.”
Chantel Williams, a Bridgeport resident, said she organized the protest “so people would know that the fight is not over and that we have to keep going.”
“I have been a part of the Black Lives Matter protests that started happening back in April after George Floyd (died in Minneapolis). I felt like there was a need to do some more because it kind of died out,” she said, Monday. “And I felt as though people thought that the issue went away when it happened. So I felt there was a need to do one in Norwalk with the recent events and everything.”
“Recent events” include Norwalk Police apprehending a Norwalk senior in what Williams described as a case of mistaken identity, handcuffing the woman and then not being able to immediately produce a key to unlock the cuffs, Williams said. Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik confirmed the account, said he met with the woman Monday and apologized for her trouble.
The protestors started at the Norwalk Police station Sunday, crossed the Stroffolino Bridge and made their way to City Hall, where they blocked traffic for about an hour.
“I think that we served the purpose …to cause some disruption. We shut down many of the busy streets in Norwalk. And I know some people might look at that as a bad thing, but I think that’s a necessary disruption for people to see the message,” said Jalin Sead, a Norwalk activist who participated in the event.
“I think it really well, I thought we made an impact in the communities,” Williams said.
Social justice movement
It’s been nearly three months since the last Black Lives Matter protest in Norwalk. Since then, the social justice movement inspired by Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” has been marked nationally by ongoing protests in Portland, Oregon, and complaints about businesses being looted.
The latest national flashpoint has been the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., followed by the arrest of a white teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two protestors.
Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times as Kenosha Police attempted to arrest him, after he walked away and tried to enter his SUV with his three children in the backseat, news reports say.
The incident is a “prime example” of disparate treatment, Williams said Monday, given that Blake was shot but Rittenhouse walked away freely and is alive and well.
Blake is reportedly paralyzed.
“The black man was innocent, just trying to actually be peaceful and break up a fight that was in his community,” Williams said.
Blake’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said Blake had gone out to break up a fight. Kenosha Police say they were executing a warrant for Blake’s arrest on a sexual assault charge.
“Rittenhouse was able to leave the shooting scene still armed because he walked toward officers with his hands up, Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskin said during a media briefing on Friday,” CNN reports.
Williams said she hasn’t been the victim of police brutality, personally.
“But I think any incident that involves my people, it affects me,” she said. “So being a witness to some of the events that happen and then also hearing it from people that are close to me, seeing it on social media, I take it personally and anytime I see somebody with my skin tone, my complexion, that looks like me, having to go through this on a repeated basis. And I know for myself, it could be me at any moment in time. So I’d rather fight now then to wait until it is me or to wait like, you know, until a situation happens to me personally. ….It has happened to have a strong impact on me now so I am fighting now for those that can’t fight, and for the future.”
All Lives Matter?
Both Williams and Sead said they’ve heard people say, “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.”
“People of all races, in all different backgrounds say it to me, I get what they’re saying. Because what they’re saying is how it should be and then their perspective, and the way that they see it,” said Sead, who is seeking to unseat Brenda Penn-Williams as president of the Norwalk NAACP.
“They’re not really saying that Black lives matter any less,” he continued. “But they’re just saying that all lives matter. They matter equally. And I get that, but it’s just in America, it just hasn’t been shown that way, that all lives matter equally. The way that we’ve been cheated by the police, the way that we’re treated, like in the school systems – I know Norwalk has been little bit better, but the way that African American students are given suspensions at a higher rate than like white students or other students it is showing that … it’s disproportionate in all the bad things.”
Black people are over represented in prisons and as victims, and “we’re underrepresented in all those things that we want to be represented in, all of the good things, like politics and things like that,” he said.
“I think that that’s the message that we’re sending, and I do understand when people say all lives matter, I don’t write them off as bad people,” Sead said. “I just think that they’re not understanding our point of view, and how we feel marginalized and pretty much let down by the American dream.”
“We’re not disputing that of course all life matters but at this moment, Black lives matter and all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter,” Williams said. “So for those people saying all lives matter, they’re basically trying to defer from the issue and saying that ‘everything is okay.’ If all lives matter then Black people should be a part of that as well, and we should be treated equally fair, when in fact we’re constantly the ones being killed at the hands of the police.”
It happens to Black people on a daily basis, she said.
“You can’t turn away from it. You can’t try to turn a blind eye to it. You have to realize what’s going on. And change has to happen, so all lives matter. Black Lives Matter,” she said.
Williams said she organized the event with a cousin in Massachusetts and also a “young lady whose grandmother was directly affected by the Norwalk police station.”
The 65-year-old grandmother was coming home from work in a taxi and Norwalk Police stopped her, Williams said. “They handcuffed her, and then they found out that that wasn’t her. They basically said like, ‘Oh, we’re sorry’ … but the grandma was already traumatized at that point. She was still handcuffed because the officer did not have this key to unlock the handcuffs.”
“We did have a woman report that she was handcuffed when officers believed she may be a suspect.
“Last week we had a stabbing and the suspect’s name and description. The name was accurate but the description was not. As officers searched for the suspect immediately following the incident, it was believed she could have taken a cab to South Norwalk. Officers observed a female generally fitting the description exiting a cab and briefly detained her. Due to a similar name and somewhat of a language barrier they initially thought it may be her, they fairly quickly determined it was not the suspect, however, the officer realized he did not have his handcuff key, and they had to wait momentarily for a second officer to respond to remove the handcuffs. The officer apologized and she went on her way.
“As a result of her complaint, I reviewed the incident and met with her this morning to discuss it personally with her and explain in detail what occurred. She came along with two others that she brought with her and we discussed the incident in detail. I also apologized for what occurred and discussed the timing of the events, the unfortunate coincidences involved and why things progressed as they did. She appeared satisfied although obviously, she was relayed that she was upset that she was mistaken for the suspect which is understandable.”
Kulhawik would not name the officer on Tuesday. He did not violate any policies and will not face discipline, he said.
Carrying on the movement
Williams has “never been involved in activism or anything here in Norwalk. She did it because she thought that it was something that she needed to do,” Sead said.
“You do lose some momentum” in a movement, after the initial event that sparks it, Sead said. But Williams action “shows that there’s still people out there that want to do it.”
The violence that’s out there nationwide in protests “definitely does damage the movement in the sense that it does turn some people off, especially people who are really in it for the right reasons, but they don’t want to be a part of the looting and they also don’t want to put themselves in danger,” Sead said.
Sead doesn’t think it will help President Donald Trump win reelection because his voters “already believe what Trump is saying and kind of looking for anything to discredit the protest,” he said.
“One thing that this movement has brought is more awareness,” Williams said. “So the issues have been happening for years, but there’s more of awareness, people are starting to wake up more, a lot more people have joined the movement that were previously not a part of the movement. So I feel like that’s a good thing. So as far as policies and stuff, there’s a lot that needs to get done … it’s a work in progress is not going to happen overnight. Just gotta keep going.”
She said, “We’re going to continue to plan more and do more throughout Connecticut, we want to really reach out to each and every state so we can keep up the fight and keep going and just serve the community. Keep the protests going, and then, so be expecting more.”
Updated 9:38 p.m.: More information.