CONNECTICUT — Gov. Ned Lamont said that he plans to keep going the “Connecticut way” of engaging with protesters instead of resorting to military-style tactics to keep the peace. The remarks come the day after protesters were disbursed from near the White House and President Donald Trump walked to nearby St. John’s Episcopal church.
The split-screen in Washington D.C. of protesters being cleared out by tear gas and the calvary was in stark contrast to Connecticut's protest situation on Interstate 84 in Hartford the same night, Lamont said. Protesters had shut down the highway.
"On I-84 it was different," Lamont said. "We worried a lot… in terms of it's unsafe, we wanted to get those people off I-84, tried some reasoning, thinking about would we have to arrest anybody. I personally was hoping it was going to start raining."
As the protest was ongoing, state police said they needed to clear the highway because "this shut down will affect those medical personnel and ambulances attempting to get to St Francis Hospital."
Instead of the situation escalating, protesters left the highway after state police troopers prayed and kneeled with the group in a shoe of solidarity over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. (You can watch the video of troopers praying and kneeling with protesters here.)
“Then people dispersed, that was the Connecticut way,” Lamont said. “We are not naive believe me… we see the social media, we know the risks out there, but I want to make sure each and every one of you know that we are trying to do this the Connecticut way.”
But Lamont did urge protesters to stay off the highways as they create a dangerous situation for all involved.
State Police Col. Stavros Mellekas said the most important thing state police can do is maintain the peace.
“The most important thing for us to do is maintain the peace in Connecticut,” he said. “We didn’t want any injuries, and we wanted to resolve the situation as soon as possible. The whole situation was resolved within 33 minutes and the protesters cleared the highway.”
Lamont said he didn’t want to overreact to President Donald Trump’s threat of military intervention if state and local authorities aren’t able to handle violent situations. He referenced Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks from last month about a potential quarantine of the Greater New York area that didn’t come to fruition.
“There is a lot of ideas that pop up and I’m not going to overreact to any one of them,” Lamont said. “I think we are handling the situation in Connecticut, I hope to God that the protesters think we are doing a good job working together on this and I hope he [Trump] will be able to learn from our example”
Lamont plans to keep the National Guard on the coronavirus fight instead of using them to quell protests, he said during his daily news conference. The guard helped build field hospitals for the coronavirus response and is now busy taking them down; they also continue to help deliver personal protective equipment where it’s needed, Lamont said.
The White House put out a broad call for National Guard support in D.C., but Lamont said that the guard in Connecticut is very busy doing coronavirus-related work at the moment.
New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes said that his department has been capitalizing on the relationships they’ve built with community members thorough the years. At the same time, the department is working with federal law enforcement partners to proactively identify agitators who are crossing state borders to loot and riot.
“They do not represent the community, much of the concern that we are getting from the community is that they are not happy about the fact that people are coming into our cities, and they are looting and they are creating civil unrest,” Reyes said. “This does not represent the majority of our respective communities.”