Naugatuck High students rally for change

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Naugatuck High School junior Giovanny Santos addresses a crowd on the Green on Jan. 27 during a protest in response to racist social media posts that recently surfaced and were made by a daughter of two borough officials. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck High School senior Alexis Siggars choked up with emotion as she addressed more than 100 people who gathered Wednesday on the Green to denounce racist social media posts made by a daughter of two borough officials.

“I’m here today to speak out on the horrifying and disheartening events we faced, this community, this past weekend,” Siggars said, pausing to catch her breath as her voice shook.

Naugatuck High students organized the protest in response to screenshots of social media posts from 2019 made by a daughter of Police Chief Steven Hunt and Naugatuck High School Associate Principal Johnna Hunt when she was 13 years old. The screenshots surfaced and circulated on social media Friday.

One of the posts reads, “My dad is now officially police chief so that means he’s more advanced in shooting black people then [sic] he just was a couple minutes ago.”

Another one of the posts reads, “I’ll make my dad drive with lights and sirens and if we see any black people we will shoot them.”

Students marched from the high school on Rubber Avenue to the Green downtown on a frigid afternoon to make their voices heard.

“It is something that we cannot allow to be tolerated in our town or anywhere,” Siggars said.

Naugatuck High School students march on to the Green downtown Jan. 27 to protest in response to racist social media posts that recently surfaced and were made by a daughter of two borough officials. The students marched from the high school to the Green for a rally. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Tenzin Dhondup, a junior, said he was initially shocked when he saw the posts.

“I feel that there can’t be change without cross-racial solidarity,” Dhondup said. “So I feel like by being here as an Asian American, I can at least do my part to make sure that my Black peers can get the justice they need and deserve.”

Giovanny Santos, a junior, said he realized racism was a problem when he moved from Bridgeport to the borough when he was 10 years old.

“I felt like we needed change in this community,” Santos said. “We’re based in a community where racism is downplayed as a joke. I’ve been called numerous amounts of names.”

“I want people to know that this is about forming a community, forming a union of Black and white individuals, a union full of love, no hate, no discrimination,” Santos added. “I want a world of peace in power where no one is treated differently because of the color of their skin.”

Protesters called for the borough to take action.

“We hope to not have to see that student in school ever again. We hope to also not have her mother as our assistant principal, and I know it may be a reach, but we don’t feel safe with Mr. Hunt being our chief of police,” Siggars said.

Officials launched several investigations after the posts became public.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough hired the law firms Karsten & Tallberg, LLC, and Michelson, Kane, Royster & Barger, P.C. to investigate. He said there are “no limits” to the investigations. He didn’t know when they will be finished.

Hess said officials are also working with local NAACP members.

“We have a very deep concern about the deep-seeded racism within the borough and that’s what we’re going to find out. Where does it start and who may be perpetuating this behavior and what the borough should do about that,” Greater Waterbury NAACP President Ginnie-Rae Clay said.

Clay said NAACP officials met with borough officials Jan. 26 and another meeting is scheduled for Feb. 8

Clay said the NAACP plans to take its time and conduct a thorough investigation. She said NAACP officials are looking to meet with people of authority, police officers and borough residents to determine what the culture is like in the borough.

“We’re going to make sure we’re going to gather as much accurate information to determine what our recommendations are going to be,” Clay said. “The borough is being cooperative. Things we’re asking for, they’re providing with.”

The Naugatuck public schools administration is conducting its own investigation, Board of Education Chairman Jeffrey Litke said. He said he could not comment further since the investigation relates to student conduct.

More than 100 Naugatuck High School students, activists and community members gather on the Green on Jan. 27 to protest racist social media posts that recently surfaced and were made by a daughter of two borough officials. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Steven and Johnna Hunt released a statement Saturday condemning the posts and apologizing.

“On behalf of our family, we sincerely apologize to all those who were hurt by this,” they stated. “We are left, however, as parents of a scared, regretful child who has and will continue to suffer the consequences of her poor and inexcusable actions. While we fully intend to hold our daughter accountable for her mistakes, we will continue to offer her the same unconditional love any parent would show a child who has erred but showed remorse.”

Naugatuck High junior Nyjahn Wade said coming together Wednesday will show the community that the protesters are fighting for change — not just in the community but in the school curriculum as well.

“I felt if we all came together that we could make a change,” Wade said.

Jaida Taversa, a junior, said tolerating racist comments is unjust. She also said the curriculum needs to change.

“I vote to change the education system in Naugatuck so that our history isn’t whitewashed,” Taversa. “I hope for Black issues and marginalized issues to be taught.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Greater Waterbury NAACP President Ginnie-Rae Clay.