WESTPORT, Conn. -- A crowd of citizens concerned about racism in America stood on the Ruth Steinkraus Bridge in downtown Westport on Saturday to protest the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the subsequent refusal by grand juries to indict the police officers involved in their deaths.
"We're here because there's a long history of unarmed black men killed by police officers," said David Vita, social justice director at the Westport Unitarian Church and organizer of the protest. By standing on the bridge, he and the other protesters hoped to raise awareness about the relationship between races in America, especially in light of events in Ferguson and New York, Vita said.
"There is a gut reaction that something is wrong," he said of the current state of racism in America. "Hopefully we can open up a conversation that we're not having in this country about race."
The protest attracted about 30 people Saturday afternoon. Many stood on the side of the road with their hands up or held signs that said "Don't Shoot," "I Can't Breathe" or "Black Lives Matter." Most of the protesters were from Westport, but some came from other towns, including Sandra Eagle from Stamford, Becky Bunnell from Fairfield, and Nadia Abudi and Caelyn Randall from New York City.
"I feel like regular citizens are so appalled by the difference in treatment black and white people get from police," said John Mason. People often think that racism doesn't exist in America, Mason said, but he believes it still does and needs to be addressed.
"I think by talking about it here in Westport, it's an acknowledgment that we're one country, one society," said Matthew Peterson. "We're not completely removed from what happens in other parts of the country."
Janet Luongo runs diversity programs in Bridgeport and Trumbull, and said that she started protesting for civil rights in the 1960s as a teenager.
"We believed in the need to get over racism 50 years ago. To see the problems coming up now, it's very discouraging," she said.
The protesters were met with several honks of approval from passing cars. But protesters Byron Miller and David Bue said that several motorists tried to avoid meeting the gaze of the protesters.
"A lot don't dare look at us. They're afraid to look," said Bue.
Miller said he served in Vietnam, but he began to protest the war when he returned. Since then, he said he has often seen protests and agreed. But the issues in Ferguson and New York made him feel as if he had to join in the protests again, Miller said.
"This is the first time since that I've felt the need to get out there and stand up."
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