To Dan Drew, the Mayor of Middletown:
It has now been a week since forty of my classmates organized the Wesleyan Black Lives Matter March. This weekend, we found out that you are asking Wesleyan to pay $7,492.81 to the City of Middletown. According to the Hartford Courant, this money is needed to pay forty-six additional officers, who were asked to work that day to protect the demonstrators.
I’m a little concerned, Mayor Drew. I’m afraid that no one ever told you exactly what these protests were about. Perhaps it’s because while you were at the protests, you stood alone, away from the crowd, among several Middletown Police Officers. Was it hard to hear 300 or more voices chanting “Black Life Matters?” from your spot? Were you having trouble making out the phrase “What do we want? Justice? When do we want it? Now!”
In case you forgot, Mayor Drew, these protests were organized in solidarity with the national movement against police brutality. Eric Garner and Michael Brown are some of the most recent and high-profile victims of police brutality, but black women also suffer disproportionately at the hands of police.
My classmates intended to peacefully criticize the national law enforcement system, and implicitly, the Middletown police, who are part of that larger system. In fact, a black man died at the hands of Middletown police in 2010. It is the job of police in this country to protect black life, not to murder unarmed black citizens. The Middletown Police did protect black life in Middletown last Monday, but let it be known that as of Monday morning, they were still deciding if they would do so or not.
Yes, Middletown Police tried to dissuade the organizers of the protest from staging the die-in because it would have been too inconvenient for them. You know what’s really inconvenient? Knowing that your basic rights to life, liberty and happiness could be taken away without warning by a person in blue with a gun, and that even if your murder was captured on video, a jury could find your murderer not guilty. I was unaware that it was necessary to pay the police to respect our basic human rights while protesting the gross violation of those rights.
A black person is killed every 28 hours by police or vigilantes. Why in the world would the organizers of this march make things easier for the people who represent the institution that robs their brothers and sisters of their lives every 28 hours? I understand that the Middletown Police Officers are not Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo, but they are part of a system that has historically disrespected the rights of black citizens.
Also, how long and how hard did the police really have to work? Middletown Police acknowledged in their press release that the die-in lasted approximately eleven minutes. The Middletown Press estimates that the entire demonstration downtown lasted 15 minutes. Multiple media outlets have characterized the protests as “peaceful,” and the Middletown Police department also acknowledged how respectful the demonstrators were. If Middletown Police had to put in an extra hour or two to make things a little easier for a nonviolent group of protestors, who did not damage public property, cause major traffic problems, or deprive the city of a significant amount of revenue, I think that is a small sacrifice that is well worth it.
I’m certain you weren’t in Exley Science Center as we started the protest, so let me fill in you in on what happened. One organizer inspired the crowd with the statement “Ferguson is Middletown. Middletown is Ferguson.” She pointed out that the personal is political and the national is local. As concerned citizens, we must protest injustice in this country and point out the larger systems of oppressions that affect our local communities. The students took what they learned from Wesleyan about systematic oppression, institutional racism, and the power of peaceful protest, and applied it to their local community.
I know that this protest made an impact on Wesleyan. I know that it made an impact on the citizens of Middletown. And I saw with my own eyes how we were able to inspire a new generation of protestors:
My classmates and I demonstrated our solidarity with the black citizens of Middletown on Monday. This was a protest that involved the community, benefited the community, and did not disturb or harm Middletown in any way. I think it is harmful to ask the university to pay a significant sum for an event brought Middletown a lot of good publicity. This protest put Middletown on the map as a town that will not stand for the degradation of black life. Your request only serves to efface this good work. The message is clear: it will apparently cost us $7,491.81 to stand up for what we believe in.
Logically, I understand that the police need to be paid for their work. I am thankful that the Middletown Police protected all of the protestors and helped make this event possible. However, I hope you can understand the irony and frankly the injustice of your request to Wesleyan. If you mean to discourage further activism by Wesleyan students with your request, I’m sure you know that you will not succeed.
I would also like to make it clear that I was not involved in organizing this march, so I do not claim to voice the opinions of the coordinators. I can only ask you, as a Democrat, as a Middletown resident, and as a person who fiercely believes that black (student) life matters, to reconsider your request.
By the way, I voted for you. I won’t do it again in November. I’m sure you’ve lost Wesleyan’s vote, and I really hope that you don’t get Wesleyan’s money.