PHOTOS: Hundreds turn out for Darien's Cross Walk Sunday

Not just a moment, make it a movement.

That was the mantra repeated by leaders and marchers during Darien’s Cross Walk Sunday. Hundreds of people joined together at the steps of Darien’s historic First Congregational Church for a last minute coordinated walk by the town’s clergy.

The Rev. Dale Rosenberger, First Congregational Church’s pastor, told The Darien Times that the idea for the Cross Walk came to him and his fellow clergy after “taking the temperature of the community.”

“There’s a great deal of sadness and sorrow, and it was already there in light of the coronavirus pandemic. People need help. They are grieving and need to find a healthy expression for their grief. If we can move beyond anger and outrage to sadness, sorrow and lamentation, then we can look for transformation,” he said.

Statewide protests

Gov. Ned Lamont wore an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt in a video message Sunday supporting peaceful demonstrations as protesters across Connecticut called for justice following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd is a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.

Protesters closed both sides of Interstate 84 in Waterbury, I-95 in New Haven and several other highways temporarily on Sunday. Hundreds gathered in front of City Hall in New Haven, chanting “I can’t breathe” and “hands up, don’t shoot.”

Demonstrators rallied in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and other Connecticut cities for a second day Saturday to protest the death of Floyd.

Hundreds walked the streets of Hartford and gathered outside city police headquarters, shouting “no justice, no peace,” “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.”

In Bridgeport, protesters forced the closure of Route 8 for more than three hours by demonstrating on the highway, resulting in two arrests, police officials said.

Darien’s march

“Our hearts feel deep anguish due to recent agonizing and violent events. There is much grief around us. With the brutal deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the 100,000 plus deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic (a disproportionate number of those among persons of color), it is time for First Congregational Darien to stand together and assist our community in mourning,” the invitation to the community from First Congregational Church said.

The YWCA Darien/Norwalk, which includes a stand against racism in its mission, also shared the invitation.

According to the church’s education director, Christine Geeding, numerous houses of worship were represented at the walk. Among them were Noroton Presbyterian, Talmadge Hill Community Church, Trinity Church Greenwich/Darien, Christ Community Darien, Congregation Shir Ami Greenwich (Reformed Jewish), St. Thomas More Darien, Fairfield Congregational Church, St. John Church (Darien), St. Luke’s Episcopal and Ridgeway Church (White Plains).

The Cross Walk is usually on Good Friday, but the town’s church leaders were forced to cancel it due to the pandemic. Sunday’s walk followed the usual Cross Walk path, starting at First Congregational and traveling down the Post Road to St. Luke’s.

Darien Police coordinated the walk, which took up the southbound lane of the Post Road and had to be closed to traffic in that lane. The police escorted the walk and kept walkers safe from traffic.

Several of Darien’s local leaders and politicians were in attendance.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson told The Darien Times she was walking “to acknowledge the anger, frustration and fear many of us are feeling in our community and to redirect those destructive emotions towards faith, caring and peace.”

“I’m walking today to stand up against abuses of power of all kinds whether in our homes, our communities or in our government. I’m walking today to support our Darien Police Officers, first responders and healthcare workers who put their lives on the line each day to save and protect ours. And I’m walking today because I’m afraid for my own children and all those who live in cities where protests are turning violent,” she said.

Though Sen. Bob Duff could not attend, as he was attending a protest in Norwalk, he told The Darien Times that “Every American in every community should stand up and speak out against police violence.”

“What happened to George Floyd is shameful and yet another example of why none of us can tolerate a double standard of justice. Mr. Floyd’s death is nothing short of murder, erodes the very freedoms police are charged to protect and the officer should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

“The open wound of racism will never heal if this country doesn’t directly confront the disparities that exist within our legal, health care and educational institutions. Let’s march, but also, let’s act,” he said.

State Rep. Terrie Wood said Sunday morning that “a couple of sound bite sentences would not do justice to the complex discussions needed around the death of George Floyd and coronavirus impact in our communities of color.”

“In short, I look forward to joining our caring and compassionate churches in Darien in coming and walking together today,” she said.

Darien resident Holly Jespersen said she felt Sunday was incredibly moving.

“While we did not have a Memorial Day parade this year— I felt that today’s march really brought us together as a community showing our support and love for the greater community,” she said.

“It was a time to feel our feelings, to grieve for our country, to just be and be together. Thank you to the Darien clergy for organizing and the Darien Police Department for escorting us down the Post Road. I was blown away by the turnout,” Jespersen said.

Evonne Klein, speaking on behalf of the Action Network of Darien Democrats, who was in attendance at the walk, said “we come together to recognize and mourn the disparity that has plagued our nation for centuries.”

“In 2020, that disparity continues to result in more unnecessary deaths at the hands (and knee) of police officers and a pandemic,” Klein said.

“What matters most is what we do tomorrow to make the necessary systemic changes; whether it’s improving education for all students, providing families with opportunities for housing, increasing access to healthcare, and ending racial profiling by law enforcement at all levels. We’ve all been called upon to participate in and lead change to build a just nation as well as a just world,” Klein said.

Darien Police Chief Don Anderson said he had called in extra staff for the event.

“It was somewhat larger than we envisioned but we had brought in extra staffing specifically to be prepared for a contingency like this. I would estimate probably between 300 to 400 people were in attendance,” Anderson said Sunday after the walk.

“I am very proud of the patient, dedicated and professional service provided by our officers today. In addition to this “cross walk” march, we also staffed the Rescue Main Street gift card exchange occurring in Koon’s lot during the same time frame,” he said.

“The right to peaceful protest and assembly is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. I am heartened that all the folks involved today kept the march both peaceful and orderly,” Anderson said.

Why the Cross Walk

Rosenberger said the cross is the symbol of many things — it is a symbol of loss and grief, but it also gives people hope.

“It reminds people of how the powers of the world will take those of little standing and treat them as expendable. That is how the Romans treated Jesus. The cross also points beyond Good Friday to resurrection and hope,” he said.

This year’s Good Friday was a day the churches and Darien were “already smarting.” he said. The Cross Walk has been a tradition in Darien for 30 years.

“It was the height of the lockdown and people were deprived of that release that carrying the cross gives,” Rosenberger said.

Sunday was the perfect reason to do it, Rosenberger said, saying the days since the death of George Floyd, and the ensuing riots, have been all “like Good Fridays.”

He collaborated with staff ministers Christine and Ben Geeding to decide if they could organize the walk on Friday. In response, he said First Selectman Jayme Stevenson was “terrific.”

Rosenberger particularly praised the Darien Police Department’s handling of the parade, particularly right now, when their “morale is probably sagging,” and they may be being judged by the conduct of the officers involved with the death of George Floyd.

“They were magnificent — compassionate, skillful, professional. The churches of Darien are all grateful to them,” he said.

Rosenberger also said that attendees were respectful of social distancing. He said the cross was sanitized in between every turn to carry it.

Rosenberger said he was also grateful for the participation of religious organizations and churches from out of town.

“The cross was our common rallying point. It is the heart of our faith and the symbol of Christianity. I see what we did as a Christian witness, more than a public demonstration. I spoke about it in those terms from the steps and people were very amenable to it being described that way,” Rosenberger said.

As far as the turnout, Rosenberger said they were “gobsmacked.”

“We knew we needed eight to 10 people to carry the heavy cross for a couple of miles,” he said, adding that the crowd “exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

“Today was the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is celebrated. The spirit of God was moving in this peaceful and hopeful gathering in Darien,” Rosenberger said.