To the Editor:
On Nov. 11, 2017, Susan Cutler and I organized a March Against Hate in Wilton whose main purpose was to deliver an alternative message to the recent incidents at Middlebrook School that troubled so many people. One of the underlying missions of the march was to be inclusive… that is, to attempt to work collaboratively with the Town, its religious and social leaders, the Board of Education, and other individuals and groups to ensure we offered a legitimate response that was as affirmative and constructive as possible.
The purpose of this letter, however, is to comment and reflect upon my relationship before, during, and after the march with the Wilton Police Department. While anecdotal in nature, my views reflect most of those who took part in the march.
I am old enough to have participated in marches that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Those marches, as I recall, were often characterized by an overt hostility between protesters and various figures of authority. The police then often represented the front lines of that “authority.” And, while marches are by nature a demonstration of public protest, it is understandable that in today’s world those in positions of authority may still view them skeptically and with a degree of caution.
Working in cooperation with the Wilton Police Department was thus an important goal. Here is a summary of what took place with that Department.
- A week or so before the march, I met with Chief John Lynch and several of his police officers to discuss the march. The Department was already aware of the scheduled march. The purpose of the meeting was to go over the plan for the march, its route, projected numbers of marchers, and where we were allowed to march and where we were not allowed to march. I found the meeting to be collaborative, helpful, constructive, and affirmative.
- At the meeting, Lt. David Hartman was assigned as a liaison to work with me. Lt. Hartman called me at least twice in the week leading up to the march, we conferred about what the projected numbers of marchers was looking like, and we continued to discuss the best route for the march. The day before the march, Lt. Hartman advised me he would not be working on the day of the march but that the department was fully briefed on the details of the march and that officers on duty would be in and around the march.
- A half hour before the march, a police officer approached me at the train station to ask how things were going and to review the planned route. It was obvious that the numbers of marchers had vastly exceeded projections.
- During the march itself and especially once we entered Wilton town center, most marchers mentioned that they noticed a police presence. Their presence was unobtrusive and at a respectful distance. When co-leader Susan Cutler and I turned the march to cross River Rd. at a difficult crosswalk, an observing officer immediately exited his vehicle to direct traffic and assist the marchers to cross the road safely. Likewise, another officer at the rear of the march was seen assisting and calling for an ambulance to help an elderly marcher who had fallen and bloodied her lip.
- Lastly, several days after the march, I received a follow-up voice mail from Lt. Hartman to inquire how I felt the march had gone, did I feel it was successful, and was there any feedback that would be helpful for him to take back to the Department.
Based on the feedback Susan and I received during and after the event, the March was indeed a success in terms of offering an alternative message against hate and bigotry in Wilton. Importantly, the Wilton Police Department played a supportive and collaborative role in helping we marchers accomplish this goal. To that end, the entire community of Wilton wins.