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Communities Rally In Wethersfield After Release Of Police Shooting Video

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
Maleek Foster marched with dozens of protesters to the home of Wethersfield Mayor Amy Morrin Bello on May 3, 2019, following the release of dash cam footage showing Anthony Jose "Chulo" Vega Cruz being shot by a Wethersfield police officer.

The release of dashcam and surveillance footage on May 3rd of a police shooting in Wethersfield spurred a range of reactions. For friends and supporters of Anthony Jose "Chulo" Vega Cruz, the 18-year-old who later died from his injuries, it was a mix of sadness and outrage.

On the afternoon that the footage was released, Andre Gaston Jr. stood with a friend on the same block where Vega Cruz grew up. He struggled to watch the event that he had wondered about for two weeks--what exactly happened to his friend?

"I ain't really finish watching the whole video because I got upset so I just cut it off," Gaston Jr. said. "My boy ain't deserve that."

Jasmin Spencer was visiting the memorial outside of Vega Cruz's childhood home after she'd seen the footage. "He was never attempting to put anybody in danger," Spencer said. She met Vega Cruz through his older brother, Anthony Colon.  

"He was just fearful of his own life," Spencer said. "It was disturbing to watch, I have two boys of my own so it was painful."  

That same afternoon, another one of Vega Cruz's friends was organizing another protest. Greg Brown founded the Justice for Chulo Facebook group the day after he died.

"There's a lot of anger. There's a lot of hurt and questions that went unanswered," Brown said.

Vega Cruz succumbed to his gunshot wounds two days after being shot by Wethersfield police officer Layau Eulizier Jr.

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Joaquin Figeroa stands with a photograph of Anthony Jose "Chulo" Vega Cruz during a protest in Wethersfield Friday.

This time, Brown decided the march would start from the Wethersfield police department then head to the mayor's house. Outside of the station, things were quiet. There weren't metal barricades as there were a week earlier when Brown and protestors with Justice for Chulo marched from Hartford to Wethersfield.

Inside of the police station, along with a group of protesters, Brown addressed Lt. Mike Connolly. Connolly said he was not authorized to comment on the investigation. When asked by Hartford community activist Kamora Herrington if he cared that Vega Cruz was "murdered by a co-worker" he responded, "Yes, I do care."

Vega Cruz's family members weren't at Friday's march but the protesters were joined by Rodney Williams, the uncle of a New Haven man who was shot at by police while driving with his girlfriend, Stephanie Washington. Washington was shot but survived her injuries.

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Community organizer Kerry Ellington (center) leads a chant during a march to the Wethersfield mayor's house on May 3, 2019 following the release of videos showing a police officer shooting an 18-year-old after a traffic stop.

"Are we going to look at policy and procedures?" Williams said, "Because when you look at the fact that vehicle pullovers are how it turns into this, when you look at this, I think that your department needs to look at at that...that it's always justified when you pull somebody over that we get shot. They're not shooting white people."

Eventually, protesters moved back outside.

"I haven't watched the video yet." Indrianne Rosado said through the bullhorn. Rosado also marched from Hartford to Wethersfield last week.  "You know how many people sent it to me? I'm not watching it. Why? Because it was wrong. It was wrong. Nothing about that was right. He was scared."

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
When the group of protesters arrived at the Wethersfield Mayor Amy Morrin Bello's house, Police Chief James Cetran was waiting on the porch.

From the police department, protesters marched down Silas Deane Highway, initially spanning both lanes, chanting, "Justice for Chulo!" and "Whose streets? Our streets!" Some cars heading north began to honk. Several officers, through their squad cars' speaker system, commanded the protesters to "get out of the way or you'll be arrested."  Some moved to the sidewalk, but others stayed in the streets.

Wethersfield police chief James Cetran stood waiting on the steps of Mayor Amy Morrin Bello's home but did not speak to the crowd. They began to chant "Come out, Amy, come out!"

The protesters were surrounded by police cars on both sides of the street. Several police officers stood guard on the lawn of the mayor's house. If a protester set foot on the grass, they were told to move.

"What that showed me was you care about the grass, you care about the safety of those in power but you don't care about the safety of those out her in those streets," said protest organizer Greg Brown. "You don't care about the safety of those who drive in and out of your city or the people who have to live here."

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Indrianne Rosado, Vega Cruz's friend, stands in front of the Wethersfield mayor's house.

Vega Cruz moved to Wethersfield from Hartford. Mayor Bello has issued statements about the shooting but has not addressed his family or protesters in person.

On the town's website, Bello said in a statement, "My heart goes out to the Cruz family for the death of their loved one as well as to the officers involved."

Protesters have also been critical of governor Ned Lamont, who hasn't made a statement about the fatal police shooting.

Within the last week on Twitter, Lamont tweeted about a shooting outside of Connecticut. On the Officer of Governor Ned Lamont Facebook page, a day after Vega Cruz died from his injuries, Lamont posted, "Proud to stand with Moms Demand Action-CT, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance, and Sandy Hook Promise to support commonsense gun violence prevention laws. We know the impact of gun violence and we must stay a leader on these issues."

Kerry Ellington has been on the ground organizing in New Haven and Hamden in the wake of the shooting of Washington, just days before Vega Cruz' confrontation with police.

On Friday, Ellington and other protesters from across the state showed up in solidarity at the protest in Wethersfield. Throughout the march, Ellington lead chants, ensured the group stayed together, and posed questions to law enforcement.

A few of Bello's neighbors stood outside their homes, watching the protest. Some filmed it.

"For all the white neighbors out here who are wondering why we're disrupting the peace in your neighborhoods, the peace is being disrupted in our black and brown communities by the officers we pay out tax dollars to," Ellington said through the bullhorn.

Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Community organizer Kerry Ellington speaks protesters in front of the Wethersfield mayor's house. She and other protestors from across the state came in solidarity.

"It's important that we unify around the pattern of police violence across communities in Connecticut because we see a similar pattern of police violating people's right to due process in black and brown communities," she said in an interview after the protest was over. "Not only violating people's right to due process but also shooting unarmed people, breaking department policy and protocol, and using lethal and excessive force on people in our communities."

Protesters are calling on the town's government to fire the officer who fatally shot Vega Cruz. They also want the state's attorney's office to be transparent when investigating officer's use of force and hold officers accountable.

More protests and actions are planned for this week.

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