DARIEN — Facing a crowd of nearly 1,000 people at the Darien Police Station Sunday afternoon, town resident Steven Gomez said, “I just thought there would be 20 people here.”

“We assumed. We shouldn’t assume,” added Gomez, referring to the assumption, he said, that many people in society make about people of color.

Last week, a Cross Walk organized by Darien clergy drew hundreds.

The 20-year-old Darien resident and rising Fordham University junior, along with several other young people, organized the peaceful protest and march for the Black Lives Matter cause.

It was one of many ongoing protests throughout the state to protest the death of George Floyd. Floyd is an African-American man who died in custody after a Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The march began at Trader Joe’s, at 436 Post Road in Darien, and ended at the Darien Police Station on Hecker Avenue. Every participant wore a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as urged by organizers. Also in attendance were First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Sen. Bob Duff and State Rep. Matt Blumenthal.

Like the speakers, a large proportion of the crowd was made up of young people, many holding up signs and eager to make their voices heard.

Gomez, whose mother, Denisse Jadue, was standing in the crowd to support him, said change in the way people feel towards those of color should happen now, and everyone should play their part to make it happen.

“I hope people really mean it when they say they want to make a change, from the bottom to the top of their hearts,” said Gomez, a political science major who attended all Darien schools.

Jadue said that when she lived in Chile, she would always march with her brothers and cousin for change.

“Here in America, there are always those people who think Latinos are uneducated,” said Jadue, who is a Spanish teacher. “We’re the ones who are able to speak two languages.”

Gomez wore a paintball mask that completely covered his face. He did so for a reason, he said.

“It’s because I want every single one of you to think you can be standing up here. This protest doesn’t mean anything without you. We are just the people who came up with an idea who want change. You are the ones fighting for it, making the actual difference,” he said, to loud claps, cheers and whistles from the crowd.

Gomez continued: “True change sometimes takes awhile. We have to keep working for it in the future. Our generation is the future generation.”

Gomez, along with the other march organizers, led the crowd on the march chanting, “Black lives matter.” “I can’t breathe.” “Power to the people.”

Darien police cars guided the marchers along the route. Many drivers along the way held their arm out of their windows in an expression of solidarity.

Darien protest on June 7 2020

Media: Connecticut Post

While at Trader Joe’s, Darien resident Mechai Hayes, 19, acknowledged the many young people in the crowd by addressing them directly.

“I see most of you guys are young and in my generation. For us, we have to be progressive. We have to make changes,” he said. “These changes are not going to happen overnight. These are going to be slow changes and these changes might not even happen in our lifetime. You have to try to spark a light in someone younger than us so that that change can be carried down.”

Another speaker, Kayin Chiolm, 19, said when he first heard about the murder of George Floyd, he initially didn’t have much of a reaction.

“I didn’t feel much. I had heard about this stuff for hundreds of years,” he said, his voice filled with emotion. “I became desensitized. Seeing everyone here really awakened something in me.”

Darien resident Max Johns, 19, spoke about the systemic racism he said exists in society today.

“I should be able to walk outside and not be judged by the color of my skin. I should have no fear for my life or others when I’m around the police,” he said. “We should have the same rights as everyone in this country, with the same opportunities.”

Johns continued: “By standing here in this protest, you guys are making a change. I’m proud to be a black man, I am proud of my skin. While it may not happen now, the change is coming and it starts right here.”

Speakers told the marchers several things they can do to “make a change.” These include doing research, signing petitions, spreading the word, posting on social media platforms, and watching videos.

Gomez led everyone in a moment of silence for eight minutes and thirty-six seconds — that was the amount of time that George Floyd was held down by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, before his death.

At the police station, Darien Police Chief Don Anderson addressed the crowd, saying he’s easily accessible to anyone who wants to talk.

“I’m easy to find. I don’t shirk I don’t hide. I’m perfectly willing to have the conversations with anybody and everybody when it comes to professional policing,” he said.

Anderson said he has been chief of police for nine months and has been in town for almost 37 years.

“I stand for professional public safety. I demand excellence from our officers here and nothing less. The public deserves nothing less as well. We can have a dialogue on anything that touches on public safety. I will have the conversation reasonable, professionally and effectively,” he said. “See my face and know what I stand for.”

sfox@darientimes.com