Black Lives Matter vigil planned for Friday at Tilley Pond
“We need to keep it going,” said 19-year-old Kate Dempsey, a Darien High Class of ’19 grad, one of the organizers of Darien’s third Black Lives Matter event in three weeks.
The event, a vigil, will be on Friday, June 19, at 8 p.m. at Tilley Pond Park, on the corner of Lakeside and West Avenue.
The purpose of the vigil is to honor the lives lost to brutality from police, according to Kate.
“All three of us organizers felt that after the other protests in town, a lot of people thought it was a one and done thing — that since they were over with, no one should care any longer about these issues,” said Kate.
“We wanted to keep pushing this movement forward to have this sit on everyone’s minds,” added Kate, who attended last week’s peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in town.
In addition, the week before, there was a Cross Walk organized by Darien clergy that drew hundreds.
Participants are encouraged to bring signs, candles and flowers, and whatever else they would like to, to the vigil.
There will be an artist on hand, painting a portrait of George Floyd, which will serve as a centerpiece at the event. Floyd was the African-American man who died in custody after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, as captured on video.
Kate will be supplying candles that participants can hold.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is required to wear masks and stand six feet apart to keep safe social distancing.
Complaints from prior protests
Aside from Kate, the other organizers of the vigil are Tammy Mguyen, 16, a rising junior at Darien High School; and Dashell Scura, 15, a rising junior at Fordham Preparatory School in Bronx, N.Y.
Kate said her “worst fear” is that the Black Lives movement only gains momentum whenever there’s a police shooting, and then is completely forgotten until the next one happens.
Additionally, a complaint Kate said she heard from last week’s protest, which started at Trader Joe’s and ended at the Darien Police Station, was that many people didn’t like how the organizers worked with police to secure off the roads.
“By working with the police, it kind of seems like they were allowing the protest,” Kate said, adding, “A protest is supposed to be kind of disobedient.”
Kate said the organizers don’t intend to get permission to use Tilley Pond Park as the site for the vigil.
Steven Gomez, the Darien resident who was one of the organizers of last week’s Black Lives Matter march, said he’s in favor of the vigil.
“It’s a nice way to honor those who have fallen due to police brutality,” Steven said. “This shows more of a compassionate side that showed we are all human and we are all together, and a loss of one is a loss of all. So, taking a pause to honor those that we’re fighting for is a very noble action.”
Comment from police
In response to the planned vigil, Darien Police Chief Don Anderson said police were only involved in the prior two marches “solely to protect the safety of both marchers and other pedestrians as well as ensuring safe traffic movement.”
“Our subsequent involvement — such as addressing the crowd and walking with the group — were by express invitation only,” Anderson added.
In regard to the Tilley Park vigil, Anderson said the right to peaceful is expressly guaranteed by the First Assembly Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as made applicable to the states by the 14th Amendment. It is also guaranteed by Section 16 of the State of Connecticut Constitution.
“Let me be clear; the Darien Police Department, as always, will support peaceful assembly and free speech as a guaranteed right under law,” Anderson said. “Being that this event is being held in a park, I believe that there is a permitting process; I would refer you to the Parks and Rec Department as the first stop in obtaining more information on the actual permitting process. The US Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutionally permissible to require such a permit which typically spells out “time, place and manner” for the assembly. It has nothing to do with content, topic or speech; it just sets reasonable grounds rules for the planned assembly.”
When referring to any potential disobedience, as part of an event such as this one, Anderson said some measure of civil disobedience has been around since the United States separated from British rule.
“The events thus far have been peaceful assemblies. I certainly hope that future events, such as the one proposed, would continue to be both peaceful and lawful. That is what is clearly and expressly required under both the US and Connecticut Constitutions,” he added.
Hearing black voices
According to Kate, additional feedback she received is that only people of color should be allowed to speak at Black Lives Matter protests.
“We don’t want anyone white speaking,” Kate said. “We want the focus to be BIPOC — black indigenous people of color.”
“People were saying this was a time for black voices to be heard and so many white people were getting up to speak at last week’s march,” she said, adding that for so long in Darien, “it has only been white voices that were heard.”
Prior school shootings
While in high school, Kate said she was very active in the walkout protesting school shootings.
“In March of 2018, we had a group of about 17 students who organized the school walkout, and I was part of those organizers,” Kate said. “We assembled in the main courtyard of DHS.”
Then, on April 20 of that year, she was one of the students who left school completely for the day to attend the March for Our Lives protest in Manhattan.
As far as future protests or vigils go, Kate said there’s room to do more — “whether that might be a sit-in somewhere in the future, I definitely want to continue.”
She added that she shares the same sentiment of others across the country who “are starting to get fatigued by the whole thing. I’m definitely guilty of this too. Living in Darien for my entire life, I never had to care about the race issue because people of color are a minority in this town, so I never really thought of the impacts of that.”
She added that vigils like the one on Friday give people time to “finally address the issues of diversity in the town, along with police brutality.”
Kate said she and the other organizers are really pushing for change.
“We want to get everyone of different backgrounds to come because we should all be continuing to care about this issue,” she said.
Tammy, who also attended last week’s protest, said she’s hoping that the vigil will remind people to keep fighting for Black Lives Matter “because it’s not over yet.”
“Although the ‘trend’ is dying down on social media, there are still people dying from systemic racism in place in our country today. We, especially as a town with not many POC/BIPOC, cannot ignore what’s happening in the world and the injustices they face every single day. It doesn’t matter in what way you support the movement, every small thing counts. As long as you are actively supporting the movement, you are doing the right thing. Please educate yourselves and learn from others and your own mistakes.”