Trumbull speaks out against racial discrimination

TRUMBULL — Saige Annakie held her notes in a shaking hand. Then, she took a deep breath and addressed the overflow crowd on Town Hall Green with a voice that grew stronger with each roar of appreciation.

“I’m not the best speaker, and I have some nerves,” she said. “But I need my voice to be heard.”

Annakie was one of a number of speakers at Saturday’s Black Lives Matter protest vigil, which included a moment of silence that lasted four minutes and 23 seconds. Event organizer Ashley Gaudiano explained that represented half the time that George Floyd spent on the pavement with a knee on the back of his neck, while Trumbull High School junior Chelsea Morton read a list of names of black Americans who had been killed based on bigotry

Other speakers included Nigel Hayes, the Trumbull High Class of 2019 president, Joy Colon, the first African American member of the Trumbull Town Council, Fred McKinney, the first African American to receive a PhD in economics from Yale, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, First Selectman Vicki Tesoro and Trumbull residents Preston Merritt and Lanette Gaines.

Saying racism was more than slurs or swastikas, Annakie said she had ventured to Harlem’s museums to learn of black culture and history.

“There is more to black history than slavery,” she said. “I had to go to Harlem to be educated about my own history.”

Despite the emotion of the day, Annakie urged listeners not to get caught up in their feelings about bigotry, intolerance or police brutality. Make a plan and carry it out one town at a time, she said.

“Start with our own commuity, then we’ll take on the rest of the world,” she said.

Hayes, the event’s first speaker, also said he had learned to control his emotions. He said the news of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officers had not left him angry or grief-striken, but tired.

“I’m 18 years old and I am tired,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be if you could not find peace in your own home?

“They say home is where your heart is,” he said, “But my heart could be stopped by someone in my home.”

Hayes said Trumbull was his home, but so was Minneapolis.

“My heart is there, too,” he said.

Blumenthal in his brief remarks, commented on the racial diversity on the Town Hall Green.

“This is what America looks like,” he said. “This is what democracy looks like.”

Speaking into a megaphone after persistent problems with the gazebo’s audio system had briefly delayed the vigil’s start, Blumenthal assured the crowd if they were struggling to hear him, the message was getting through to him.

“I have no trouble hearing your voice,” he said.

Tisdale and McKinney used their personal experience to illustrate how race can affect perception. Tisdale, a 50-year resident, said that among his family, being stopped by police was not unusual. One time, an officer followed Tisdale’s father right into the family’s driveway.

“He asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Tisdale said. “My father replied, ‘I live here.’ ”

McKinney said he had very nearly experienced the same fate as George Floyd when a Los Angeles police officer stopped the car he was riding in and had the occupants lie face-down on the road. Before the incident was over, McKinney had a shotgun pointed at his head and was ordered not to move as he tried to shift to a more comfortable position.

“That was my first day at UCLA, right in front of our dorm,” he said.

Two decades later, after receiving his PhD, McKinney was running a small business selling African-themed items in the city when learned that a customer of his had been killed in a robbery.

Contacted by the NYPD, McKinney agreed to meet with officers. Expecting to be asked for help in solving the case, McKinney soon found out he was a suspect.

“A person who fit my description — that is a black man — was seen running from the scene,” he said. He was told that police had learned the victim owed him $40 and that the two pieces of information, together, was enough to charge him.

“We think these things happen somewhere else,” he said. “But they happen all over.”

The event’s final speaker, Colon, remarked on the number of people who had attended and stayed through more than one hour of 88-degree heat and high humidity.

“There’s a lot of you,” she said before correcting herself. “No. Wait. There’s a lot of us.”

Colon said it was time Americans demanded more of their elected officials, “That includes me” ensured that the nation lived up to its promise.

“While America was never perfect, the Constitution exists to protect the rights of all of us,” she said. The country now was at a crossroads.

“This is our moment,” she said. “This is our chance to determine how history remembers us.”