By ERWIN FREED
Emails, phone calls, and even messaging on social media led to a broad range of speakers from organizations all over the state at a rally in Stamford, Conn., on May 8. Protesters gathered at the Government Center (aka City Hall) to hear speeches, chant, and show support for the state dropping charges against five people arrested at a Justice for Steven Barrier protest on Aug. 8 of last year. Over 30 people came out, and the local press gave useful coverage.
According to the Stamford Advocate, charges have already been dropped against one protester. This followed the launch of a social media campaign and petition drive that has over 2000 signatures between online and physical forms.
Police brutality in “progressive” Connecticut
Stamford, like all major Connecticut cities and the state itself, is controlled by the Democratic Party from top to bottom. Multiple speakers discussed their experiences with Connecticut cops abusing power. Kate Dempsey, a Darien local and activist with RAGETIME CT, passionately described her firsthand account of the police attack in Stamford on Aug. 8.
Videos that Dempsey took went viral in the days following the protest. She gave the crowd a look into the conditions surrounding that footage: “I stand there in shock and struggle to keep recording. … Officers are inches away from me as they try to push off the public sidewalk. … I worry that my face will be the next one smashed into the pavement.”
Many activists remarked on a recent SPD statement put out two days before the protest. The statement itself appears to be a reaction to the public campaign for charges to be dropped. It continues the lie that Justice for Steven Barrier protesters “blocked traffic” and “disrupted the public in the street and in restaurants” on Aug. 8. As SR has previously reported, the police had guaranteed traffic control as the protesters marched in the street. Cops blocked traffic, as they had agreed to do. Police body-camera footage from the moments in question, when activists marched past restaurants on Bedford St., clearly shows overwhelming support from diners as the march passed. Some even hugged demonstrators. While a few patrons ridiculed the marchers, there was no escalation until the cops beat and arrested people for exercising their rights.
Val Jaddo, Steven Barrier’s mother, closed the rally with words about the SPD killing her son. Jaddo has been fighting for accountability for her son’s death since he died in police custody during a mental health crisis on his 23rd birthday in 2019. She underlined how important the fight to drop charges is and how it is directly connected with the fight for justice for Steven Barrier. Following Jaddo’s remarks, the rally took a moment of silence to honor Steven and the dozens of others murdered by Connecticut police officers.
Combining local struggles against killer cops, Kira Ortoleva, an organizer with Justice for Mubarak Soulemane, gave a statement prepared by activists with Justice for Jayson Negron. Soulemane was killed by state trooper Brian North in North Haven last year, also during a mental health crisis. Negron was shot by Bridgeport Police officer James Boulay in 2017 for allegedly stealing a car. Soulemane was wearing a seatbelt and behind a car window while Negron was completely unarmed. Officers in both cases, as well as Barrier’s, have been acquitted of all charges.
International struggle against police violence
The May 8 demonstration was fundamentally in solidarity with workers’ struggles against state repression of protesters all over the world. Max Cisneros, a local Queer Latinx activist, centered his speech on building solidarity with the movement in Colombia. On top of his internationalist statement, Max led the crowd in chants of “Black Power!” “Queer Power!” “Indigenous Power!”—in that way, connecting the fight for democratic rights to the many struggles for liberation.
Following the speakers, attendees took pictures and videos in solidarity with protesters in Colombia, who are staying strong in the face of brutal violence from the Duque regime.
The movement needs organization
Drawing together many of the points from different speakers, Socialist Resurgence member Dan Piper, a teacher, emphasized the need for collective organization to coordinate mass movements. Piper pointed out that the ruling class is doing everything it can to demobilize the uprising started last summer. Part of this strategy is unleashing mass arrests and punishing activists.
Defense campaigns offer important opportunities to bring together broad coalitions to fight against repression and for democratic rights. Piper related the type of fights needed to drop charges against activists with the massive campaign that ultimately led to Derek Chauvin’s conviction.
The May 8 rally was an important step in bringing together a broad collection of activists and community members into the fight for democratic rights and against police violence. Connections made organizing the demonstration will provide an important stepping stone in building the movement. Members of the climate, labor, immigrant rights, and other movements stood together to defend all of our rights. Activists will continue to build the struggle and draw in more support from important community members. Clergy, labor, and other leaders have voiced support for the fight.
Top photo: Protesters show solidarity with the struggle in Colombia.