Protesters shine light on racism, police brutality in Shelton

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Chants of “Enough is enough” and “black lives matter” filled the air around Huntington Green Sunday as dozens joined in what has become the countrywide protest of Minneapolis man George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

More than 120 filled the Green for the peaceful protest organized by longtime Shelton resident Michel’le Sanders and Shelton High School Students Fight for Change founder and graduating senior Matt McGee.

“I am amazed and in awe of how everyone came together,” said Sanders, who also spoke, along with Mayor Mark Lauretti, police Chief Shawn Sequeira and NAACP Valley branch President Greg Johnson.

Sanders said she organized this protest only 24 hours earlier because, as someone who grew up in Shelton, she has experienced racism in her own hometown.

“I’ve experienced it at school, from strangers and just once from a police officer. I’ve sat back silently for long enough,” Sanders said. “They say change starts at home, and this is my home so it’s where I felt I could help start to make a change. Not all people in Shelton are racist, and it isn’t a vast majority, but the ones who are racist make it bad enough.”

People, most donning face masks, first gathered in the Green for speeches, then moved along the grassy area near the road, holding signs and chanting to the sounds of people honking their vehicle horns in support.

Johnson led the crowd in chants of “Enough is enough,” “I am not a threat” and “Silence equals violence,” among others, before saying this protest is not politically motivated.

“This is not about Democrats … this is not about Republicans,” Johnson said. “There are young folks dying at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us. We pay their salaries, we pay taxes, your vote counts. It is time to hold them accountable.”

Sequeira said police must use all de-escalation tactics before putting their hands on someone.

“The minute I touch you, you feel violated, right?” Sequeira asked the crowd, to yells of yes. “I’m not speaking as a police officer but as a minority myself.”

The Shelton police chief said, growing up in the south end of Stratford, he, too, faced discrimination and harassment.

“It’s definitely a sad day for all when we lose someone’s life and it could have been avoided,” Sequeira said after the protest. “My heart goes out to the Floyd family and, on behalf of Shelton PD, we support justice.

“Just because we all wear the same uniform does not mean we act in the same manner,” added the chief. “Use of force with the police, and specifically the African-American community, is an ongoing problem and that type of unjustified behavior will never be tolerated by at the Shelton Police Department as long as I am chief in Shelton. I pray for all of us.”

Lauretti said such peaceful gatherings are a welcome sight, compared to the days of violence and destruction in communities across the nation, which he called “unacceptable in these United States of America.

“When we come together like this and put our thoughts and hearts together, we’ll get the right outcome,” the mayor said.

While thanking “our lovely mayor” Lauretti, McGee shot back, calling his words “nice” but his actions must also live up to his statements.

McGee then referenced the case of former police Chief Robert Voccola, who retired in 2006. Voccola was ordered to undergo sensitivity training after the police union president taped him using a racial slur. According to a New Haven Register article in 2005, Voccola apologized for the comment at the time.

“We are not going to allow anyone at this protest to say nice words but who do not put action to those words,” said McGee, referencing the 1999 incident. “It was a long time ago, you’re right, it was.”

Lauretti, in an interview Monday, said he did not hear McGee’s statement and did not offer comment on the past situation.

“He’s a kid ... he has no track record,” said Lauretti, adding that other political figures in the city are using McGee, who has been quite vocal in the press and on social media in opposition to the mayor, as a “pawn.”

Overall, the Shelton protest went over smoothly and Sanders thanked all who attended.

“I can’t thank them enough for supporting the cause because ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the statement isn’t that they matter more or only black lives matter but that black lives matter also,” said Sanders, who had her husband, Breon, at her side for the protest.