The civil unrest that has gripped much of the nation and flared up in nearby communities has begun to be seen and heard in Bethel.
A vigil, called for by State Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan and initially embraced by First Selectmen Knickerbocker was canceled by Mr. Knickerbocker the day after a mostly peaceful march in Danbury became dangerous when more than a hundred protesters broke away from the planned route and staged a shutdown of interstate 84. Video from the event shows protesters mounting vehicles and then being knocked down when frightened drivers sped away from the mob. Mr. Knickerbocker said "Today's rally in Danbury, also planned as a short outdoor march, drew over 2,000 people.
Likewise in Stamford, where a planned peaceful rally is growing to the point that city officials have had to assign 80 additional police officers on special duty to keep them safe.
There is already a great deal of concern on the part of our state and federal health officials over the real possibility of a dangerous spike in COVID-19 infections as a direct result of these rallies and gatherings. As an elected official, I cannot in good conscience continue with the plan.
I respectfully ask my fellow Bethel citizens who are deeply committed to the cause of racial justice, as am I, not to come to town hall tomorrow night. As difficult as this is, because so many of you have contacted me asking for an outlet for your grief and frustration, the only conclusion I can come to is to postpone this service to a date when we can be safe, regardless of how many of us wish to attend.
I want to thank our State Representative, Raghib Allie-Brennan for his work to help put this together. I know many people will be very upset with this decision. Do not blame Raghib, blame me. This is something I should have thought through more fully and realized the potential that many, many more people may wish to attend, and I hope you will accept my apologies.
At this time, in lieu of a candlelight vigil, I invite those who wish to do so to stop by town hall at a time of your choosing and leave a small memorial to Mr. Floyd at the gazebo.
I would like to assure you that a vigil will be rescheduled when it is safe. Sadly, the issue of racial injustice is not going away any time soon. I look forward to day when we can safely mourn and express our fervent commitment to the cause of righting racial injustice in person once again.
Thank you for your cooperation and dedication to this important cause."
However, in a message exchange with Rep. Allie-Brennan, he expressed disappointment and said he believes the event is canceled rather than postponed.
He posted this message "I am truly disappointed by the decision to cancel the June 4 vigil in Bethel.
Vigils such as the one we planned provide a vital opportunity to come together as a community to condemn systemic racism, to grieve, and to begin to heal. Similar peaceful events have taken place without incident in towns across the state, most of which have had the support of local elected officials and law enforcement leaders. Silence is its own loud statement, and right now Bethel's is speaking volumes.
I have the utmost confidence that the residents of Bethel would have maintained a respectful and peaceful atmosphere, had they been given the opportunity to gather. While much of the response to the planned vigil was overwhelmingly positive, we did receive some hateful feedback from folks who do not share our desire to bring our neighbors together. It's discouraging, but we can't be discouraged. We are a resilient community, and we will find other ways to come together.
As part of that effort, I'm working with a group of young people who refuse to be deterred and are planning a similar event in Danbury. The Walk For The Change You Want To See event will take place this Saturday June 6th at 12pm at Roger's Park in Danbury. I look forward to seeing you there."
In Response, about two dozen protesters turned out at the library on Thursday evening holding signs and chanting. They dispersed by 8:30 and were then replaced by a group of about 40 demonstrators who, with cooperation from the Bethel Police, staged a brief sit down across Greenwood Avenue at about 9:15.
Meanwhile, a member of the Bethel Democratic Town Committee who sits on the town's Insurance and Pension Commission, that recommends police pension changes, and had been helping coordinate the canceled vigil was challenged on social media for a number of anti-police posts they had recently made. We have republished the two that were specifically referenced with explicatives redacted.
We contacted the Town Democratic Committee to ask for comment, as well as the Bethel Republican and Independent parties.
The Bethel Democratic Town Committee released this statement: "The Bethel Democratic Town Committee does not condone such posts as they run astray from the proper conveyance of our message. Our Committee supports the Bethel Police Department and the women and men that protect and serve our community. We recognize that systematic racism and police brutality has plagued our nation for far too long. We strive to be a part of the solution by working with the BPD to fully understand the issues that our community may face and create positive change." Frank Avallone, Vice-Chair of the Bethel Republican Town Committee said "The Bethel Republican Town Committee fully supports racial equality as well as our men and women in law enforcement. We always feel as a whole more can be accomplished with an open dialogue. Comments like this that discourage discourse are unfortunate and do nothing to help the issues we face as a society." Cynthia McCorkindale, Chair of the Bethel Independent Party said "I can't imagine an Independent Party candidate posting that kind of material. It is so completely against what we stand for."
Recent social media posts by Bethel Democratic Town Committee member and Bethel Insurance and Pension Commission member James Naddeo.