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'Closed Mouths Don't Get Fed': Why Protesters Are Camped Outside Bridgeport Police Department

A protest encampment outside the Bridgeport Police Department completed its fourth day Tuesday.

The protesters, who’ve maintained a 24/7 presence in colorful tents, have issued a list of 11 demands, including calling on the city council to defund the police department and reinvest the money into community initiatives.

“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” said protester Byron Bigelow. “If we don’t speak about it, they’re just going to keep doing it. Us staying here and being consistent in it shows that we’re not OK with the things that you’re implementing in our city.”

He spoke about the alienation he feels as a result of police violence.

“I no longer identify myself with being African American or American, because nothing’s equal -- I’m just a man with a purpose.”

Another demand on the protesters’ list, the firing of Bridgeport police officer James Boulay. He shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron in 2017 after a pursuit on Fairfield Avenue in the city.

Negron’s older sister Jazmarie Melendez is one of those camped out by the police department. 

“We’re going to continue to fight,” she said. “There is unity across Connecticut right now. They think that they can just slap a Band-Aid and do some type of reform policy and that people are going to accept that -- [it] is not going to be a thing that we’re going to accept any longer.”

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Credit Joe Amon/Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Jazmarie Melendez, older sister of Jayson Negron, listens to people from the assembled community speak on Day Four of a protest outside the Bridgeport Police Department.

Jeannia Fu, an organizer with the Justice for Jayson campaign, echoes that message. 

“We can no longer reform police, we need to end policing altogether,” she said. “We are here because the communities of Bridgeport have had enough. Bridgeport has one of the most violent police forces in the state.” 

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Credit Joe Amon/Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Jeannia Fu (center), an organizer for Justice for Jayson, speaks to the assembled community on Day Four of the protest encampment outside the Bridgeport Police Department on June 16.

One of the protesters who spoke during Tuesday’s rally was Briana Wahl from Norwalk, who just finished her master’s degree at the Pratt Institute in Manhattan. But she’s skeptical that education can be an equalizer for people of color.

“Radical change is the only great equalizer,” said Wahl.

Her speech to the crowd was emotional, and personal. She said she surprised herself with how candid she was.

“I was thinking about my family, my story, and it just came out from there,” she said. “I’ve been just exhausted for -- I don’t even know how long anymore. And I can’t pretend to be happy or polite, or even eloquent about it anymore.”

But she does see hope in the sustained protest that has persisted across the U.S., and the world, since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

“I want everyone to know that what we’re doing is really important. We’re not just dying, we’re living first. We’re people, we’re humans.”

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Credit Joe Amon/Connecticut Public
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Connecticut Public
Briana Wahl, 26, of Norwalk is brought to tears as she speaks of her fears for her family, friends and the community at the hands of police.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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