Peaceful Protesters Throng Westport

One of Westport’s largest political protests since the Vietnam War drew a crowd of about 1,500 to downtown Westport this afternoon.

Organized by young people — and overwhelmingly young, but with families and at least one 80-year-old woman — the event was loud, enthusiastic, and peaceful.

A number of attendees were from Westport. Others came from surrounding towns and cities, including Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford. Many carried homemade signs.

Ten days after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, the crowd chanted “I can’t breathe,” “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace.”

Floyd’s death — and similar actions around the country — was the catalyst. But placards invoked other black people killed in the country, and an array of injustices.

(Photo/Jennifer Meerow Berkiner)

Bobbi Brown — the youngest member of Bridgeport’s Board of Education — set the tone as the event began, on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. The symbolism was apt: That’s the site of some of the most memorable political protests in Westport. And this afternoon’s demonstration was, in part, a bridge between a wealthy white suburb, and its more socioeconomically and demographically diverse neighbors.

Brown spoke passionately about the need for involvement, education and activism. She was joined by several other young black leaders.

But she also handed the megaphone to a variety of speakers. A young autistic white man spoke of his marginalization. A young white woman in a wheelchair cried as she talked about supporting her black friend.

Westporter Mary-Lou Weisman said, “I’m in my 80s. My generation failed you. We have hope you can do what we didn’t do.”

Mary-Lou Weisman

Holding the hand of a 7-year-old white girl, Brown noted, “It’s up to us to make the world better and safer for her, and everyone.”

The crowd — growing bigger by the minute — then marched the short distance from the bridge to police headquarters.

Chief Foti Koskinas told the crowd, “You are making sense. You are making a difference. We are listening.”

More speakers took the megaphone by the station house. Everyone took a knee.

A half-white, half-Filipino college student said, “We were born into an enormous amount of privilege. We can walk around freely. But Westport cannot ignore injustice. We need to use our privilege to do better.”

The group then massed back on the bridge. The speakers, chants, pleas for justice and promises to act continued.

“Are you fired up?” one speaker asked the crowd.

“Yes!” they roared back. “Fired up!”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas promised to keep this in police headquarters.

State Senator Will Haskell was in the crowd, handing out masks.

(Photo/Sophie Mulhern)

(All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

55 responses to “Peaceful Protesters Throng Westport

  1. Mark Doran

    Totally pointless and incredibly disruptive. If these people want to make a difference, how about going into New York City or Buffalo where there actually is police brutality to protest. Instead, these protests here do nothing besides alienate all the people who live around here that have nothing to do with these unfortunate incidents. I’m sorry, but blocking roads and creating dangerous traffic conditions around town, and causing stores to board up their windows is not right.

    • Mark Doran

      I forgot to add: It’s also great to see all these people ignoring social distancing and not wearing masks. Thanks for throwing away all the hard work we’ve done these past two months. I look forward to seeing a rebound in COVID-19 cases in a few weeks…

      • Edward Gill

        Mark, the vast majority of us were wearing masks. Two hours I walked, and saw a fair few police not wearing masks, as well as speakers pulling them down to be heard. But when chanting “I CAN’T BREATHE” the point of the chant is a bit easier to understand when you need to struggle for the air a bit. Were you there to listen to the speeches or were you in a car being inconvenienced? While the Westport Police did not attack us at the protest today, they did do a good job directing traffic away. If the traffic issues are so bad, why is the MURDER of your fellow United States Citizens not as outrageous? I know the answer, and it will make you as angry as it makes me disappointed in you; your privilege allows you to think that until a police officer in Westport kills your neighbor, there is not a problem more important than your commute or your errands.

    • John McCarthy

      Worst. Comment. Ever.

    • Wow, Mr. Doran, it’s terrible how you have completely missed the point of these protests. I am white, my husband and kids (aged 8-14) are white, and these protests are incredibly relevant to *our* lives. We also live downtown; I don’t think we alienated many of our neighbors in joining today’s demonstration, given that several of them were also at today’s protest.

      So, why would I, as a privileged white woman, attend a Black Lives Matter protest here in Westport? Because (as one can see from your comment) racism is alive and well here in our little bubble. It is my responsibility to not just acknowledge the white privilege under which I go about my day-to-day activities, but to teach these ugly truths to my children. I suspect that you are also white, and have enormous privilege, whether you acknowledge it or not.

      In the history of our country no other group of people has been subjected to kidnapping, forced immigration, slavery, segregation, pervasive discrimination, and subconscious racism that permeates every level of society. Some groups have been subjected to SOME of those (Japanese and the internment camps, Muslims viewed as terrorist-threats, Hispanics collectively viewed as “illegals”). The terrible reality is that only the Black population has been the recipient of all forms of this inhumane and unequal treatment. For THAT reason, we – every single one of us – MUST take a collective stand and state unequivocally: Black Lives Matter. It is our duty as members of this collective American society to acknowledge our ugly history, reject the continued ripple effects, and make an effort to repair race relations between every one of us. Above all, it is my parental duty to teach this history and these moral lessons to my children, so that they might help their generation do better than either of us did with ours, Mr. Doran.

      The fact of the matter is that these conversations and rallies MUST take place in towns like Westport. We are part of a larger fabric on this planet – as this pandemic has certainly taught us. A wise man by the name of Elie Wiesel once wrote, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” You might consider these words and see if the Westport you want to live in is on the side of justice and humanity – or not.

      And to be clear: NONE of us “caused stores to board up their windows”. That was the unconscionable action of some corporations deciding that our town and neighboring town residents are not capable of having a peaceful protest. It is clear to me that these companies value their wares more than our community’s trust. I’ve taken note of who they are and I will not buy from them again. They obviously do not share my values.

  2. Eric Burns

    What a throng in Westport today!

  3. Antony Lantier

    Mark, I feel sorry for you , you really don’t get it……..

  4. Antony Lantier

    Mark, I feel sorry for you , you really don’t get it ……..

  5. Because I asked them, and because they said where they were from when they spoke.

  6. Dena Guggenheim

    If you have anything negative to say about the protest today then you clearly still don’t get it. What happened today was a beautiful thing. People, many of whom were young, took to the streets to stand up to racism? How can you have anything critical to say about that? And as for the “go to NYC or Buffalo” comment, which was quickly followed up with a comment on the lack of masks. Would you really rather everyone who was at the rally today head in to NYC today, where Covvid is still running rampant, to then head back to Westport? Unbelievable

  7. Mike Rackmil

    Are there any other protests in town this weekend? If so please provide details.

  8. Wes Beeler

    Would have loved to have seen some reporting on the numerous black speakers at the protest! To not acknowledge their work there seems counter-productive.

    Also, not everyone kneeled. All of the protestors took a knee, many police officers refrained.

    • I quoted Bobbi Brown in 4 separate paragraphs. The Westport police officers knelt. Two other officers did not. Chief Koskinas said, “I’ll take care of it. They are not ours. They’re from another department, offering mutual aid.”

      • But why not name them all? There were so many more black than white speakers, and you name-dropped all of the white ones. Other than Bobbi, you didn’t name any others who spoke.

        Regarding the officers of other departments, If you were aware of them not kneeling, why didn’t you mention it in the original article?

        There is serious and fundamental change happening here, and it seems a failure to not report it all explicitly.

        • “An autistic young white man.” “A young white woman in a wheelchair.” Yeah, I “name-dropped all of the white ones.”

          • Okay, maybe not names, but specific references. I’m not trying to argue semantics and I don’t want to discredit the white people who spoke, I just think the people of color who were able and willing to get up and lead that crowd deserve equal, if not more recognition than them.

            Sorry Dan, but I cannot fathom how you feel differently.

  9. Scott Smith

    Spread Jen’s comments far and wide. And, like Mike, I ask how word of these local events is being shared. We’re all in this together.

  10. Fran White

    Fantastic coverage, Dan. We are so lucky to have you as our eyes and ears if we are not there. Thanks so much.

    • Thanks, Fran. Plenty of good coverage on WestportNow, Facebook and elsewhere too. We are all in this together!

  11. Don Bergmann

    The march today was wonderful. How about a weekly turnout on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. It would seek to assure that we do not forget George Floyd, but a regular gathering at the Bridge on Saturday would also honor the many years that Estelle Margolis and others made their statements. This time it would be “Honk for George Floyd”, though “Honk for Peace” still resonates. Estelle was with you in spirit today.
    Don Bergmann

    • Lisa Newman

      Hey Don! You have my email – I would absolutely love to hear more about Estelle if you have a few moments to share. 🙂

  12. Michael Isaacs

    It’s nice to see comments like Jen Greely’s, but what would she say to her children who ask why there are no or almost no minorities in the Westport Police Department, Fire Department or in town government? And why are affordable housing projects so often met by NIMBY? I know Westport is an expensive town to move to, but we sure don’t go the extra mile to try and create opportunities for black people here. Maybe that will change in the future.

    • Mark Doran

      Exactly my point above. Today we’re clutching our pearls and claiming to be a welcoming town that cares about those less fortunate than us. Then tomorrow we get back to kicking these people off our Compo beach by raising the day use fees.

      My comment above is being misconstrued; I did not mean to be provocative. I’m simply saying if you really cared about this issue, you would do something that made a difference, not preach to the choir. Protesting in Westport achieves nothing; if you care so much about this issue, go down to DC and face off against the police firing tear gas at protestors–that’s where the protesting is needed, and where it would be more impactful. Imagine if all these little protests around the country actually banded together and went down to DC… We need a march on Washington like back in the 60s.

      • Sorry, Mark, but you’re dead wrong. We need protests in Washington, New York, LA and Minneapolis — AND in Westport, Darien, Havre MT, Anna IL, Greensburg PA, and all kinds of other places. The fact that protests are happening everywhere — in big cities and small towns, and every place in between — is the real story.

      • Your point, Mark, may seem to have its logic; however, protests are symbolic… not all the folks who supported the Boston Tea Party lived in drank tea.

  13. Werner Liepoly

    Like the rain after a long, long drought.

    Let justice rain down.

  14. How about instead of defacing the wall you paint your message on you house or car?

    • It was chalk.

    • Edward Gill

      So the chalk written message of “Black Lives Matter” is the offensive action here? As noted above, roughly 1,500 people in your community march against the violence happening in our country and THAT is the straw for you? You are making exactly the point of this protest clear; while people are not yet being murdered in the streets of Westport for the color of their skins, the VERY small minority of black people in this Town are still treated as outsiders who do not belong and never will. Teenagers came out to organize this protest, to raise their concerns about the condition of this Town and the problems they face every day, and you only worry about the chalk message one person wrote on a brick wall? Disgusting.

      • Dan Miller

        Not that one. The “fuck Trump” written on both sides of the bridge was sickening.

        • Dermot Meuchner

          Again you missed the point. His display of authoritarianism on Monday should send a chill up your spine but you’re more concerned with a four letter word that offends you. Waving a Bible he hasn’t read and using the flag as if it was his personal sigil is abhorrent and frightening. Don’t think it can’t happen here, ask Upton Sinclair.

  15. B. Franklin

    Can we all agree that the citizens of Westport are Pro Life for all souls?

  16. Allie Bowlin

    Dan, I was at the protests. You were not wearing a face mask. You were not wearing black to unify with protestors. You were simply on your phone filming protestors as they walked by. Frankly, this feels as if you are attempting to profit off of the black lives matter movement. Please do more to support this movement; this post is not enough. So please, tell me and your audience: What are you going to do to make sure that black voices are heard in your blog?

    • I was wearing a face mask. I can send you several photos that prove this. I was also reporting on the event. I have posted a number of stories about the Black Lives Matter movement. We all do what we can. Thanks for doing your part, and for recognizing that everyone has a different way of contributing.

      • Allie Bowlin

        Dan, if you make any money off of this article, it should go to black organizations. If you refuse then we know who you actually support. Also, I know good journalism when I see it. This article is too biased and also tokenized some of the protestors. Your bias clearly shows when you 1) report that the police chief said he wants to do better, but fail to report that many of his men did not kneel with protestors. Why would you omit that information? You also 2) interviewed sooo many white people. This is a huge issue. This movement is founded off of black voices, and frankly what a white person thinks doesn’t matter right now. I also found the two sentences “ A young autistic white man spoke of his marginalization. A young white woman in a wheelchair cried as she talked about supporting her black friend.” To be an example of tokenism. I’m not sure if you intended this, but highlighting the disabilities of people in this context is irrelevant and I’m not sure why you highlighting those details. It feels like tokenism because you do not names the names of these two people and instead you use them to prove a point in your article. Disabled people are not yours to utilize whenever you want to make a call to pathos. For those four reasons, I think your journalistic integrity is faulty and that you can do better. Please let me know if you disagree or agree with any of the points I make and we can discuss all of this.

        • Let’s take this off-line, Allie. I emailed you earlier today, but you did not reply. Please use that email address.

          But since you’ve questioned my integrity publicly, here goes.

          I’m not sure how cognizant you are of “good journalism,” or what “06880” is. I spend 6-8 hours a day on this, and rely entirely on donations from readers. I am not “making any money off” this story — how would I?

          “Many of” the chief’s officers not kneeling is wrong. The chief clearly said, “I’ll handle it. Those are not my officers. They are mutual aid, from other departments.”

          Also, since you brought it up, I have been support many kinds of social justice organizations — and political causes — since before you were born. I put my money where my mouth is, too. Just yesterday, I asked my niece what she wanted for her birthday today. She has a fundraiser going on Facebook for a Black Lives Matter organization. I made a substantial donation, that put her more than halfway to her goal. I’ll let you know the details, so you can donate too.

          I did not “interview sooo many white people.” I reported on their public remarks. If you found their public remarks offensive, I’m sorry. They earned enormous applause on the bridge. I did not get their names, however, because there was too much going on. Earlier you faulted me for “taking pictures” (and not wearing black) instead of taking part in the demonstration. I’m not sure exactly why you changed your mind about what my role should have been.

          Please return my previous email, and we can talk about other issues off-line. I look forward to hearing more about your thoughts, and your views on journalistic integrity.

        • You’re right, Allie Bowlin. Dan’s raking it in. That’s how blogging works. This post will put him in the Billionaires’ Club.

          • Allie Bowlin

            No matter how small the monetized amount is, I think stories about the BLM movement should be funded back into black communities. Can you blame me? Although I do realize I spoke too aggressively Dan, and I hope you can forgive me. I am sorry for being disrespectful. It was out of line to publicly addressed your loyalty to a movement. I look forward to emailing you and hearing more from your perspective.

    • Adam Vengrow

      Whoa going after Dan are you nuts! Profit from all this are you crazy! If it wasnt for Dan, nobody would publicize the great things that happen in this town, or the controversial that provides 30,000 people from being able to talk about it. You should check yourself going after Dan, nobody cares more about this town than him, and does something to better it like him!

      • AND, Dan was so civil in his response to you, Ms. Bowlin. How the hell could he make a “profit” from his reporting on ANYTHING. He has no sponsors and the best he could hope for is that folks more tuned in than are you, will send him some money to continue the public service he performs.
        Get with the program, Lady.

  17. I’m much older than most of the people in today’s protest, which puts me in the high risk group. Therefore, I’m fearful of joining in such an event.

    However, I was very active in the 60’s and 70’s, participating in many protests and marches for Civil Rights, among other things.* I find it so sad and appalling that 60 years later there has been so little progress in race relations. Hopefully, this time the outcry has been so loud and powerful that people of color will get what they are entitled to and deserve.

    * e.g., The Vietnam War, Freedom of Choice

  18. Karen Howes

    you are incorrect Dan, I spoke with four officers who did NOT take a knee, no excuse about” departments” . get the facts . I counted 4 officers, 2 were laughing at the door of the police station during the speeches. I asked them to take a knee, they said to me, , qoute , “we are busy doing something else “..horrible

    • I don’t get it Ms “Black Lives Matter;” YOU and I have the right to kneel but others, police or whomever, do not have the right NOT to kneel.? That doesn’t do the cause any good….as abberrant as it is to think of folks being dumb enough, uneducated enough and un-American enough to vote for TRUMP or be un sympathetic to “Black Lives,” the democracy you are working toward provides the freedom your comment seems to eschew.

    • The officers in the door of the police station were not Westport officers.

  19. Lawrence Robinson

    The article reveals that the protests are edging into the issue of economic injustice and its effects. Given that the pandemic has cast a glaring light on the concentration of wealth and opportunity, this focus will eventually come to the fore, here and across the country. The response to the racial and economic challenges has been largely platitudes and gestures rather than concrete program proposals. I propose one conceptually simple (although politically challenging) step in the right direction: a change in the State of Connecticut structure creating county governments with real taxing authority.

  20. Jennifer Johnson

    Thank you Dan. Yesterday’s event was incredibly powerful. For those who didn’t get the chance to attend, I’m sharing a short clip of photos and videos. Btw…it really helped to have a SHS Junior as a daughter….. I would have missed knowing about this. It’s clear from the footage that the youth know how to get out a message.

  21. That’s a great video, Jennifer. Thank you — you really captured the day. Much appreciated!