A cell phone video that shows an African American man being beaten by officers of the Hartford Police Department prompted a protest rally that moved from the corner of Main Street and Albany Avenue to the front of the Public Safety Complex on Monday evening.
The rally and short march to the Police Department headquarters on High Street was staged by Moral Monday, CT, an organization that campaigns for heightened “police accountability”. The large group of protesters was led by Bishop John Selders, a Hartford resident and Associate Chaplain at Trinity College.
“We are here today because there was an alarming video that surfaced where a young man was brutally beaten,” Selders told reporters at the pre-march rally. “There were circumstances that we understand were accompanying that beating, but the very thing we organized around is around police brutality, overreach, and violence. And what we saw there, [was something that] no citizen-of any community or city in this state-should be subjected to.”
What a viewer of the footage-posted on Facebook by State Representative Brandon McGee-sees are two officers and city resident Samuel Bryant outside of a building on Mather Street. One officer is restraining him from behind while the other repeatedly hits his leg with a baton.
But the circumstances-or events prior to that moment-are not seen in the video. Bryant was stopped by officers Robert Fogg and Brian Salkeld for drinking from a concealed alcohol container, according to coverage in The Hartford Courant, as well as police reports provided by the Department. It was alleged that during a subsequent search, Bryant tried to runaway, striking Salkeld in the ensuing struggle.
In a statement-dictated to officers and written out-that was included in the police report, Bryant said that he hit the officer accidentally.
“I spun off him, and I think I caught him with my elbow,” Bryant said. “I didn’t mean to hurt anybody, and I didn’t even know I hurt him at the time.”
Salkeld momentarily lost partial consciousness from the blow, and was treated for minor facial injuries, according to the report.
Officers found a knife and crack cocaine during the search, according to the police report.
“The beating I saw, nobody should be subjected to,” Selders said after the protest. “If he assaulted the police, he’ll catch a case. Let’s stop making these kinds of beatings the norm.”
While protesters are rallying around this most recent incident, it is not the first-whether in or out of state-that has brought demonstrators to the streets of Hartford, New Haven, or other cities throughout Connecticut. Activists who marched on police headquarters Monday feel that what is seen in the video exemplifies what they describe as a systemic practice of police brutality and “overreach” that they say is characteristic of Departments throughout the country.
“In other townships, those kinds of beatings don’t occur,” Selders said. “In Hartford, and Bridgeport, and New Haven, and some of our other urban centers, these things happen on the regular.”
And Reverend Cornell Lewis, a city resident and Moral Monday activist, brought a noose with him to the protest to symbolize that.
“The noose represents the way America has always dealt with black men,” Lewis said. “That punishment is still going on, but they’re using different methods.”
Deputy Chief Brian Foley says that the Department has reached out to Selders, who said the same on Monday.
“Our door is open to him,” Foley said over the phone on Tuesday. “He can come in and talk to us anytime. We’re not trying to sway public opinion-we need them to be critical of us, and they are. You have to have a watchdog, and he’s that watchdog.”
While Foley said that “smaller group” or “one-on-one” meetings have been productive in the past, the Department also has a history of holding larger, town hall style forums. He would not specify as to which type the Department had hoped to have with Moral Monday, but on Monday Selders made it clear that he wants nothing less than the latter.
“What I would like is to not have a private conversation, but a public one,” Selders said.
And on Monday, that’s exactly what he and demonstrators tried to do. Chants of “we want the chief” rang from outside the Department building for several minutes as Foley posted about the rally on Twitter, describing it as a “peaceful protest” and saying that “dialogue with our critics moves us forward”.
But when and how the next one will occur, is unclear for now.