WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The mayor of Waterbury is taking steps to bring the community together after the protests in the Brass City this weekend in response to the death of George Floyd. Mayor Niel O’Leary launched a Diversity Council Tuesday.
What started out as a peaceful protest Sunday morning against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the ex-Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, became anything but peaceful in the afternoon.
Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo should know. He was there at the beginning of the day supporting the crowd.
“We stood with them, stood against police violence,” Chief Spagnolo told News 8 Tuesday.
The chief applauded the protestors standing up and raising awareness to a significant issue. But, he wasn’t applauding how the protest changed from morning to afternoon. That’s when part of the protestors took over part of I-84, shutting it down.
The mayor says this was not part of the original plans for what was intended to be a peaceful event.
“A very antagonistic group of people came in – from where we’re not sure – and took over the protest and became very angry,” the mayor said Tuesday.
“There were protesters observed on top of a fuel tanker truck,” the chief said.
Mayor O’Leary also said he heard those protestors yelling insulting names to African-American police officers on the scene. “Things like ‘trader,'” he said. “It was sad to see.”
The group marched to Waterbury Police Headquarters later and blocked traffic in front of it. Chief Spagnolo says his officers told the crowd several times to move from the street. The incident there resulted in 18 arrests.
“They were warned again to get off the street,” the chief said. “It was unlawful assembly.”
James Legassey, who was at that part of the protest and did not get arrested, tells News 8 police officers did more than just give warnings. “There were three times that the police department came towards the protesters,” he said.
More arrests came when the protestors who remained also marched towards Wolcott Street, in a heavy retail area. Chief Spagnolo says at that time, Facebook posts were popping up insinuating there would be rioting at the Walmart there. Several stores shut down early as a precaution.
“We made a conscious decision at that point to shut down the protest,” Chief Spagnolo said. “Rocks were thrown at police cars, there were police officers who had water bottles thrown at them. My car that I was in.”
Ten other arrests happening along Wolcott Street. The Connecticut ACLU condemned the arrests.
“Any organization that believes this was a peaceful protest is just wrong,” the chief said. “I think the department made an appropriate decision. It was a danger to the community.”
A police spokesman says of the 28 arrested, nine were not from Waterbury. All of those arrested face charges of interfering with police and disorderly conduct.
Despite the conduct of the afternoon, Mayor O’Leary says he heard the protestors’ message loud and clear and is committed to improving the line of communication between minorities, – who may not feel as if they are sufficiently heard – city leadership, and the police department.
Monday afternoon, Mayor O’Leary brought together leaders for a digital community conference call to address those concerns. He opened up the floor to ideas to better reach out to minority groups who may feel as if they’re not being heard.
“We need to have some serious and honest dialogue about the root of the problem and that has been ignored for way too long,” urged U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes (D-CT).
I’m going to take Pastor Reece up on his idea of creating a Diversity Council and I think that’s one of the ways Congresswoman Hayes and Dr. Gatling, and all the speakers, that we start to reach even deeper into our community. It’s one of the ways, Congresswoman Hayes, to start to build up more trust.– Mayor Neil O’Leary, Waterbury (D)
“We’re gonna take the lead in remembering George Floyd’s legacy in doing a better job and I think this conversation in Waterbury has inspired us all,” Governor Ned Lamont added.
WEB EXTRA: Waterbury leaders, state lawmakers discuss productive next steps to bring community together after the death of George Floyd.