By Jacqueline Stoughton, Republican-American
NAUGATUCK — With her father’s arm wrapped securely around her, 15-year-old Shayla Shaw stood in front of more than a thousand people Saturday on the Green to declare she was there to march for her future as a black woman in America.
“I’m scared,” the local teen said. “It’s not OK the way we’re treated here. I know change will come. I have to believe that.”
Her father, Christopher Shaw of Waterbury, also addressed the crowd, saying the Black Lives Matter movement has changed the way he views the world.
“My plan was to just survive,” he said. “It’s time to take a stand and choose right versus wrong. This is not a black-against-white issue. This is all people against racism.”
The Green was crowded with people holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe,” “Police the police” and others that called for police reform and justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death May 25 at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
The peaceful protest — organized by Naugatuck residents Jendaya Bell, 23, Sumaya Cruz-Quiles, 20, and Megan Cancelliere, 20, — began at noon and set aside the first hour for anyone who wanted to share their personal stories about racism and police racial profiling. Then the three young woman led the protesters on a mile-long march to the Naugatuck Police Department.
Chants of “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” could be heard as protestors marched down North Church Street to Route 68 and onto Spring Street. Residents came out of their homes to chant in solidarity, some stationed at street corners to pass out snacks and water bottles.
Officers stood outside the police department, which was surrounded by metal barriers, and more protesters shared their stories for officers to hear.
Police Chief Steven Hunt attempted to speak to the crowd. When Bell asked him not to, Hunt said the police department intends to host focus groups to continue the conversation.
“We want to have an open dialogue for community members to voice their concerns. Together we can make change happen,” Hunt said. “I just wanted to let the crowd know that we will be here to have meaningful conversations.”
Bell concluded the protest with a moment of silence for Floyd. Protestors laid on their stomachs with their arms behind their back outside the police department. Some cried for Floyd as Bell recited his last words, “I can’t breathe.”
The moment of silence lasted 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time Floyd laid on the ground before dying.