Behind the Protest: New London Youth Organize

Hearing Youth Voices planned a protest in New London over the weekend. They say their work is far from over.

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People flooded the streets of New London over the weekend for a protest, fighting for change.

"We are fed up," said Shawn Brooks, who helped organized the protest. "Now that we are of age and we can vocalize what is going on, we are just tired of it."

Brooks is a member of Hearing Youth Voices, a youth-led social justice organization in New London. Brooks and several other members of Hearing Youth Voices were moved to host the protest after the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after pleading for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes.

"I was just very angry at the system once more," said Shineika Fareus, one of the people who organized the protest. "Which I have been very angry at the system for a long time."

"It was not shocking because of everything that has been going for literally the entirety of our lives, our parents' lives, grandparents' lives," said Craig Parker, another organizer. "It was really disheartening to see the way he was killed."

The young people wanted to organize a protest to speak out against discriminatory policies and systems. According to Brooks, they planned the protest two weeks in advance to give people time to properly organize. They were not expecting the crowd that turned out to protest alongside them.

"I never would have anticipated that many people," said Parker.

"I had an epiphany. I was like, 'oh my gosh'," said Brooks. "Wow. Like this is what Martin Luther King and the countless other trailblazers did."

I did not know what I say mattered.

Ivana Etienne, Hearing Youth Voices

"I did not know what I say mattered," said Ivana Etienne, another organizer.

The protest was paired with a specific list of demands.

"The purpose of being in the street was not to chant, 'black lives matter, no justice, no peace,' it is not just a statement to us. That comes with so much more and the actions behind that," said Fareus.

The group listed seven demands that can be read here. One demand is calling for 35 percent of the New London Police Department 2020 budget to be invested into services that support New London residents who are black, brown and poor. They are also demanding the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue.

Fareus said that their goals are possible as long as they put pressure in the right place.

We are fighting all the way. No matter how long it takes.

Shineika Fareus, Hearing Youth Voices

"We are fighting all the way. No matter how long it takes," said Fareus. "This is not just a Facebook post. This is not just an Instagram post. It is our work. It is what we do."

"Just because the protest is over does not mean the work is done," said Parker. "I thoroughly believe that the whole system needs to be dismantled and just re-imagined."

"This weighs so heavy because our livelihood is at stake," said Shane Brooks, another organizer.

Fareus said they have not heard from any city representatives at this time in response to their petition. They plan on speaking out at future Board of Education meetings and City Council meetings.

Mayor Michael Passero told NBC Connecticut that the city is launching a public safety policy review board. The mayor-appointed board will complete a citizen review of all police department policies, procedures and budget. They meet for the first time next week.

To hear Mayor Passero's full comments regarding the city's Christopher Columbus statue, click here.

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