Thousands of racial justice protesters marched through Hartford on Friday, rallying at the Capitol and later confronting Mayor Luke Bronin outside his home over the issue of police funding.
On the Capitol steps, organizers from the group BA Undivided listed extensive demands, including cuts to police departments, an end to mass incarceration, an end to homelessness, an end to environmental racism, a living wage for all workers and more.
Speakers ranged from current college students to a 90-year-old man who had participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Though the event coincided with the Juneteenth holiday, organizers said it was time to act, not celebrate.
“It doesn’t just stop with protest, it doesn’t stop with giving out petitions or voting,” said Olivia Mitchell, who helped run the event. “It’s white people correcting other white people every time. It’s holding your family members accountable, it’s holding your job accountable when you see a Black woman being paid less than you for the same job. It’s not allowing your company to talk about diversity when there’s one Black person involved.”
State Rep. Brandon McGee and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal addressed the crowd as well. McGee stressed moving past basic reforms to target the roots of inequality.
“When we talk about knocking down confederate monuments and statues glorifying colonialism, we must also address the fact that the life expectancy of Northeast Hartford … is 11 years lower than the average of the state,” McGee said. “When we talk about the push for body cameras, we must also put our energy into dismantling the effects of redlining in cities like Hartford.”
After leaving the Capitol around 4 p.m., marchers continued past the Hartford Police Department, then to city hall, where more speakers shared experiences and local rapper Mike Flowz performed several songs.
The group then advanced to Bronin’s home, where they pressed the mayor to defund the Hartford Police Department beyond the $1 million cut he agreed to last week. Bronin said he opposed dramatically cutting the department and attempted to turn the conversation toward other issues, drawing jeers from the crowd.
Bronin spoke with the crowd for about an hour, ultimately agreeing to meet Monday with representatives from BA Undivided. Marchers then returned to the Capitol to close the evening.
West Hartford marks Juneteenth
Amid celebrations of Juneteenth across the state and nation, West Hartford began June 19 with a ceremony on a town green named for an 18th-century slaveholder, where several hundred people recognized the holiday and town leaders apologized to residents who were once enslaved.
After Town Councilor Carol Blanks read aloud from a town proclamation, Board of Education Vice Chair Lorna Thomas-Farquharson listed several dozen names of enslaved people from West Hartford.
“Each and every name recognizes a person who contributed to what this town was but more importantly what this town has become,” Thomas-Farquharson said.
Mayor Shari Cantor said she regretted that West Hartford had not recognized Juneteenth before but that she hoped to make it an “ongoing tradition.”
Among the speakers Friday was recent Conard High School graduate Eshe Griffith, who commented on the relative lack of Black history curriculum in West Hartford Public Schools.
“It shouldn’t take 12 school years for a child to learn their history,” said Griffith, noting she hadn’t been taught Black history in school until she took a high school elective class. “Because Black history is American history.”
State Rep. Tammy Exum, whose district includes parts of West Hartford, Avon and Farmington, said she typically goes to Hartford for a Juneteenth event and was happy to see West Hartford hold a celebration.
Exum said she thought the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests had catalyzed the community.
“People in West Hartford are wonderful, but they were fine with the status quo because they didn’t even know what they didn’t know,” Exum said. “Now that we’ve had several rallies and protests, it’s the urgency of now. And if we didn’t do [the Juneteenth celebration] now, I’m afraid next year it would have been ‘Oh it’s nice to do, but we have something else.’ ”
Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, commemorates the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they were free, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Several U.S. states have recently declared Juneteenth as a holiday, and some congressional lawmakers have suggested it become a federal holiday. In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday he was open to recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday and that he would discuss with legislators.
Exum said she hopes to be involved in those conversations.