Eight years after the town celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves of the Confederacy, town residents gathered again to take a stand on the town green, but this time it was to express anger at an ingrained system of repression and racism against people of color.
“I am angry,” said Micaela Cardozo, one of the organizers of the event. “I am angry that black and brown people are killed for the color of their skin.” Micaela, a recent college grad who grew up in Woodbridge with a black father and a white Mother, is very aware of the undercurrent of racism that pervades society here and in the nation as a whole. “First you have to learn what the root of the problem is before you can begin to fix it,” she said.
The event, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, started with a rally on the green, then participants lined up on Newton Road, and followed the route of the Woodbridge Road Race in a 3-mile hike through usually quiet neighborhoods. Orange Democrats had set up a table where people could make signs for the march.
Some 250 people participated, estimated Police Chief Frank Cappiello. He said it was a peaceful protest and well-coordinated event. Police were on hand for traffic control to ensure everyone’s safety during the march.
Speakers included First Selectman Beth Heller, and several black Woodbridge residents who spoke about their experiences in this predominantly white town. Amity High alums Zoie Reed, Ryan Rattley and Tobe Nwangwu shared their feelings. Rattley, a college student, sent a letter that his mother, Carol Galloway, read.
Nwangwu evoked how George Floyd’s mother had high hopes for her family, just like any Woodbridge mother would have for her children. He spoke of Floyd’s career on and off the field until it was cut short when police pinned a knee on his neck. Black people are 5 times more likely to be killed than their white counterparts when it comes to police action, Nwangwu said.
Nwangwu called for an honest accounting of the many unhealed wounds. He was very clear about steps that would make a difference in terms of accountability and transparency: reform of the data collection of police force; investigations of shootings and in-custody deaths. Also steps to promote officer wellness; and acknowledgement of past injustices.
“Racism is everywhere,” said Carol Galloway. “Naming it is the first step to addressing it.” Her son Ryan remembered hearing the N-word for the first time on the bus home in elementary school. He remembered a white woman following him in her car when he was skateboarding. And even though both Ryan and his brother were very involved in sports and theater at Amity High School, he came to realize that “black athletes, though celebrated on the field, were vilified in other settings.”
Zoie Reed, a 2015 Amity graduate, expressed bitterness. “Why do we have to explain racism at all,” she wondered. And she didn’t let the white audience off the hook. “Are you complicit with a world that hunts down black and brown people,” she challenged them. “We have to invest in our greatest asset, our people. I’ll thank you later, when you actually did the work.”
First Selectman Heller spoke of the recent unrest in the country. “We watch in anguish in response to systemic racism, particularly the pattern of needless and senseless acts of violence that have taken the lives of our black brothers and sisters, and recently, the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police,” she said. But there is a new burst of energy, she said, and that gives her hope that things will change.
Heller quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous line that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” “I think Dr. King believed that the arc doesn’t bend toward justice on its own,” she added. “That’s our responsibility, and that’s why we are here today.”
The Rev. Shepard Parson of the First Church challenged people to sit, kneel or lie down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence in honor of George Floyd. Then he called out “I can’t breathe” and dropped to the ground.
Pictured: Several hundred protesters marched through Woodbridge in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on June 13
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent