August 3, 2020
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SAFER Branford (Students + Alumni for Equity and Racial Justice in Branford) Branford and CT Against Brutality march through downtown Branford July 12.

File Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

SAFER Branford (Students + Alumni for Equity and Racial Justice in Branford) Branford and CT Against Brutality march through downtown Branford July 12. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

Branford Marchers Anti-Police Chants Spark Controversy

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Although the message of a July 12 Branford "March for Justice" aimed to support Black Lives Matter (BLM), social justice reform, support for all black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), and defunding police to reallocate money to support needed school and social service programs; some select chants maligning police, including one specifically naming Branford Police Department (BPD), rose to the top and continue to resonate and cause debate in the community.

Some Branford community members have taken to online social media forums and sent letters to The Sound in support of BPD and questioning some of the protests' more profane anti-police messages. At the July 12 event, mixed in among posters and chants which have been more commonly shared at recent area shoreline protests, such as "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice No Peace," were chants including " **** these racist *** police" and "**** the cops." With regard to BPD, the group chanted, "How do you spell racist? B-P-D. How do you spell white supremacy? B-P-D."

The march segment of the event was escorted by BPD with approximately 100 protesters in the street as they marched from East Main Street to Laurel Street. As previously reported, the July 12 march took place between opening testimonial speeches outside Branford High School and closing speeches outside Branford Police Headquarters (see the story here).

The March for Justice was organized by pro-racial equity and diversity in Branford schools grassroots action group  Students + Alumni for Equity & Racial Justice in Branford (SAFER), together with Connecticut Against Brutality (CAB). CAB's Facebook page (@CTAgainstBrutality) states "the youth of Connecticut will no longer stand by while the humanity of black people is callously disregarded. We have seen too much police brutality to sit silent. Most of all, we have seen too much brutality from one human being to another to sit silent."

Nationwide, protests and anti-police sentiment is being expressed by protesters. The BLM movement has mobilized nationwide since the unjust death of George Floyd caused by four Minneapolis police on May 25. A nationwide police abolition movement is boiling that advocates replacing what is viewed as a flawed system of policing with other systems of public safety.

Discussing BPD

SAFER protest march co-organizer Gillian Basilicato, who also organized the June 7 BLM peaceful protest on the Branford Green, was contacted by The Sound/ to discuss why at least one July 12 protest chant seemed to level allegations of racism and white supremacy specifically at BPD.

She noted in an email response that calling BPD racist was in keeping with the history of the American police state, which was "...birthed for slave patrol."

"The literal founding of police departments was racist," Basilicato wrote, in part. "It directly criminalized and brutalized Black and Brown people and continues to do the same currently. The Branford Police Department is not an exception of the founding, history, and core values of this system. Branford PD upholds and serves a system that is inherently and historically anti-Black."

Basilicato also noted "many of our BIPOC speakers discussed the origin of the police state as well as the historic and contemporary weaponization of police force against Black and Brown community members both on Sunday and at the first protest in June. Some BIPOC speakers also mentioned their personal racist experiences with the BPD in the past."

She further noted the July 12 protest is "documented in full" on SAFER Branford's Instagram page (@saferbranford). A review by The Sound/ of the July 12 speeches couldn't pinpoint BIPOC speakers providing specific racist experiences with BPD, although some shared personal stories of experiencing different aspects of racism. One SAFER student described injustices and instances of neglect he faced at Branford High School as a transgender male, including being threatened with physical harm on social media. He called for reform with the school administration and in the BPD.

The Sound/ was unable to find a video review of all June 7 BLM speeches. However, CAB co-protest organizer Siobhan Ekeh, who is also a member of SAFER, also noted both Branford protest events involved BIPOC speakers who spoke of negative personal experiences with BPD.

"Many BIPOC speakers told stories at this protest and the first Branford protest of their own specific experiences with racism from the BPD, from false charges, to physical brutality, to lack of care and help in situations of trauma, to 'lost' evidence, lies and deceit," Ekeh claimed, in an email response to The Sound.

Ekeh also noted, in part, "...the police originated as slave patrol, meaning that the police force was created to serve the purpose of protecting white capital and comfort at the direct expense of Black and Brown people. Throughout the years, these values of white supremacy have been upheld by the police and 'justice system.' When we say that BPD [is] part of a racist, white supremacist institution, we are not saying that the individual officers of the BPD are necessarily racist or white supremacists. Rather, they work within a system which has at its core the value of upholding white supremacy and racism."

The Sound/ also contacted Branford Police Chief Jonathan Mulhern for a comment.

"They have a constitutional right to voice their opinions," said Mulhern. "Their voices will be heard, but I know the support that we're getting from the community is greatly appreciated by the men and women of the department."

Mulhern spoke to The Sound/ on July 24, just a few hours after the state House of Representatives voted 86-58 to pass a proposal limiting qualified immunity of police officers and calling for intensified training, oversight, and accountability.

"Policing's a demanding and at times very dangerous profession, but none the less we are still committed, regardless of what is transpiring recently," Mulhern said, adding, "We are committed and we will continue to serve our community."

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