Police Chief, First Selectman Join Growing Chorus Addressing Minneapolis Unrest
UPDATE: This report was updated around 7:45 pm on Saturday with new information about an earlier protest in Bridgeport.
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Newtown Police Chief James Viadero, who earlier this week was closely monitoring a multi-state manhunt involving a Sandy Hook man, turned his attention on Saturday, May 30, to approximately 1,250 miles northwest in a 3 pm social network post. Referring to the escalating unrest in Minneapolis, Minn., following the death on May 25 of a handcuffed man in police custody, the chief joined First Selectman Dan Rosenthal who reached out separately through The Newtown Bee with a message for the community.
Chief Viadero, formerly a career Bridgeport officer and superior, wrote: "I'm sure everyone has seen the disturbing video from Minneapolis in which a handcuffed man lost his life while in custody. I can assure you as sworn law enforcement officers who have taken an oath to protect and serve the communities who have entrusted us with such an awesome responsibility we are all sickened by what has transpired."
Rosenthal stated, "The actions of the officers in Minnesota should be horrifying to all Americans. It is impossible to comprehend how one person entrusted to serve and protect could callously take the life of another person while others with the power to stop it did nothing.
"America has always served as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world and we are a collection of cultures unlike any other nation," he added. "This is our greatest strength and also our biggest challenge. We need to challenge ourselves to listen, to learn, and to understand each other better."
The Newtown officials are the latest leaders across Connecticut and the nation to issue reactions to the incident.
Cell phone video captured the scene Monday night in which Derek Chauvin, 44 — a since terminated Minneapolis police officer now charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — is seen kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, for over eight minutes during Floyd's arrest on a suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill.
Floyd, who was handcuffed and heard saying he could not breathe, was pronounced dead later that night.
The incident has sparked unrest, riots, and looting that have spread beyond the Minneapolis/St Paul metroplex. Demonstrators on Friday marched, stopped traffic and in some cases lashed out violently at police in dozens of cities from Hartford and Bridgeport, to Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland (Ore.), Houston, Indianapolis, and in several neighborhoods across metro New York, and even outside the White House.
Demonstrators were rallying in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and other Connecticut cities for a second day Saturday to protest Floyd’s death. Hundreds walked the streets of Hartford and gathered outside city police headquarters, shouting, “No justice, no peace,” “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.”
The rallies followed similar demonstrations in several cities in the state Friday. There were no reports of violence or major property damage.
New Haven resident Remidy Shareef told WFSB-TV, “We’re seeing people of color being just being murdered down in the streets. This is a tragedy. People of color and everyone with a heart and soul needs to know we cannot let this happen. Everyone has the right to leave their homes and come home safely.”
In Bridgeport, protesters forced the closure of Route 8 by demonstrating on the highway.
Around 5 pm Saturday, David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, issued a statement following reports of officers using tear gas to control protesters in Bridgeport saying, "People are in the streets demanding racial justice and an end to police violence. The protests happening in Bridgeport and elsewhere are a direct response to the violence that police perpetuate in Black communities across... Connecticut.
"Protesting for justice for all people killed and hurt by police is essential. People have the right to protest the police," McGuire added.
Four men have been killed by police in Connecticut this year, including three in January. The four fatal police shootings remain under investigation.
Calling For Police Diversity
Outside the State Capitol on Friday, a briefing by Governor Ned Lamont and clergy about COVID-19 guidelines for worship quickly turned to Floyd, the riots in Minneapolis, and what it means for communities of faith. The governor and clergy, a mix of men from different faiths and races, observed a moment of silence.
The previous evening during a tele-town hall with the state legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, the governor spoke briefly about the Minnesota police killing.
“I need your help in recruiting people in law enforcement, recruiting judges,” Lamont told legislators. “I’d urge you to use your networks to do everything we can to make sure we have a police force that reflects the diversity of our amazing state.”
Locally, First Selectman Rosenthal added, "Despite what the media may portray, there is more good in our country than bad and there are hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers that do the right thing day in and day out. We need to demand accountability when officers violate their oath, but answering with violence is not the answer as violence only begets violence.
"Our Chief of Police’s remarks remind me of how fortunate we are to live in Newtown, where we are served by a police department that prides itself on community engagement and adheres to the highest standards of professionalism," the first selectman said. "My hope is that this tragedy brings our nation together in common purpose to weed out intolerance and indifference wherever it exists."
Newtown's Chief expressed an appreciation of how such an incident, however distant, has a direct impact on his force and officers, as well as colleagues he has across the state.
"On a daily basis men and women honor their oath, risking their lives for the safety of the communities and citizens to which they serve. The actions of one officer is viewed as a failure to all who serve in our chosen profession. Equally disturbing is the actions of other officers who stood idly by while this act occurred," Viadero said in his post.
"We have been entrusted to act when we witness injustices and protect those who are victims, this clearly did not happen in this instance," he continued.
"We understand that the incident that occurred in Minnesota undermines and diminishes public trust in law enforcement and the confidence that has been bestowed upon officers to uphold their oath," Viadero said. "Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, with dignity, respect, and expect impartiality when dealing with law enforcement.
"I can assure you that the thousands of officers who serve their communities on a daily basis adhere to these values and honor their profession and the citizens we are sworn to protect and serve," Viadero concluded. "Anything less is not acceptable, we are accountable to those who have placed this trust in our profession."
Around the same time as Viadero released his statement, the mayor of Boston hosted a prayer vigil with clergy and the city’s police commissioner to honor the memory of Floyd. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh says the prayer vigil, streamed live on the Boston government website, was to honor Floyd and to reflect “on his murder.”
Walsh said, “If there‘s ever a moment to acknowledge injustice and recommit our nation to eradicating it, it’s right now ... This is our moment in time to change as a nation.”
Lawmakers Demand DOJ Investigation
Late Friday, US Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined Minnesota colleagues Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, along with 24 other senators calling on the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
"Given the repeated instances of police violence that have resulted in the deaths of several citizens — a disproportionate share of whom have been black men — we ask that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the MPD. The Department should also be prepared to use the strongest tools available —including the use of court-supervised consent decrees — to ensure oversight, enforcement, and accountability on an ongoing basis,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Those responsible must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law in order to serve justice for George Floyd and his loved ones. And we must work toward justice for the community, which means ensuring that the MPD accounts for and eliminates any unconstitutional police practices. It is imperative that the Department of Justice do its part toward that end,” their statement continued.
Also his weekend, a top Vatican cardinal is calling on US pastors to plead for calm amid violent protests over the death of George Floyd.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is from Ghana, says the death of Floyd was “disgracefully inhuman & sad enough.” In appealing for a message of restraint to be delivered at Sunday services, Turkson tweeted: “Let us not add to it, making it & memory of Floyd ugly with violence.”
Turkson heads the Vatican office responsible for social justice and development issues. He is one of only a handful of African cardinals and one of only two to head a major Vatican department.
The leadership of the US Catholic Church has strongly condemned Floyd’s killing, saying racism is a “real and present danger that must be met head on.” The US bishops conference says while the church always seeks non-violence, “we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged."
Associated Press and Connecticut Mirror content was used in this article.