“She looked at me, extended her hand, and asked if I would pray with her,” recalled Lt. Jack Goncalves, of the moment a protest on the interstate turned into a prayer circle.
Goncalves was one of more than a half-dozen Connecticut State Police troopers who took a knee when a planned outside the Hartford Police headquarters spilled out onto Interstate 84 on Monday.
“It was a time to diffuse, teach, and learn,” said Goncalves. “There was a lot of pain out there. A lot of pain.”
He said the spontaneous and voluntary show of support did more than deescalate the situation, it also sent a message.
“We’re listening. Law enforcement is listening and we just want to make sure that everyone is safe.”
Goncalves also had a message to those planning future protests: don’t block the interstate.
“They’re putting themselves in danger, they’re putting the motoring public in danger, and they’re putting the officers in danger. That’s not an avenue that’s going to continue," he said.
However, that’s not how the demonstration’s organizer, Cornell Lewis, envisioned the protest would end.
“We were going to lock down the police station and that was going to be our statement,” said Lewis. “We had chains that we were going to chain to people’s wrists and wrap around the pillars of the Hartford police station and the doors.”
Lewis, founder of the Self-Defense Brigade, is planning more protests in more communities.
“I want to see the entire state of Connecticut and other states and locals shut down, life disrupted,” he said. “I do not want people to continue to embrace the very people that have continued to kill us. That is ridiculous. We can’t win like that.”
State Rep. Brandon McGee, who represents Hartford, has a different strategy for righting the wrongs of the past and make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
“We want people to vote, we want people to work on or continue to work on legislation that would address police brutality,” said McGee.
McGee grew emotional talking about the images of Goncalves and other troopers taking a knee on Monday.
“There are people who serve on the force that are trying to do the right thing,” said McGee, noting that his cousin is in law enforcement.
McGee did not participate in Monday’s protest, but said he did take part in a demonstration the previous weekend. He said the current uprising is different than past protests because more children are involved.
“I’m trying not to get emotional but going out, fighting for justice and sharing their voice to this much larger, systemic challenge that this country faces,” said McGee holding back tears.
“We all have the same end goal. We want to make sure that law and order is equal across the board for everyone,” Goncalves added.
He said that the Connecticut State Police have an open door policy. He’s urging members of the community to come have a conversation with troopers at the police barracks in Hartford.
“What happened in Minneapolis doesn’t represent this badge or this patch on my arm,” said Goncalves.