Families of people lost to police violence in Connecticut gathered at the state Capitol in Hartford Friday to share stories of their loved ones. Jazmarie Melendez talked about her brother Jayson Negron, who was shot and killed in 2017 in Bridgeport. He was 15 years old.
“My brother's four-year anniversary is approaching soon. His story and the stories of police violence are very repetitive,” said Melendez. “I remember him as being somebody who loved music, who loved fashion. My brother would try to sew clothes, and he wanted to become a rapper. He had so many different interests and aspirations that were just completely taken from him.”
Families say holding protests and making spaces to uplift and share the stories of lives lost at the hands of police is one way to push for legislative change. Melendez said these cases often fade from the public eye when police officers are cleared without accountability.
“In Connecticut, we see national cases, and although for a moment, some of our cases get that national attention, like my brother’s story -- hit national news for just a moment and then faded away,” said Melendez. “Our families are still left behind with this feeling of wanting justice, of wanting to seek true change.”
Also sharing her story was the mother of Steven Barrier. Valerie Jaddo said that instead of celebrating her son’s 23rd birthday in 2019, she was notified that her son died while in Stamford police custody.
“That left me with a giant scar in my heart that no parent, sister, brother and grandparents should ever have to go through,” said Jaddo. “My son did not have to die. He was having a mental health crisis. And instead of being treated by doctors and therapists, he was arrested and surrounded by police.”
Jaddo says she still remembers him looking through the window to see her come home and numerous phone calls to check in on her.
“But now our sons are dead and never coming home,” she said.
Kira Ortovela misses her friend Mubarak Soulemane, a New Haven man who was shot and killed by a state trooper after a high-speed car chase off Interstate 95 in West Haven on Jan. 15, 2020.
“He was a really good friend of mine,” said Ortovela, an organizer with Justice for Mubarak. “All of these different cases always have the same thing to light. Without the continuation of these protests, there’s not much that happens in these cases because it’s all trying to be as hidden and thrown away as much as possible.”
Alicia Strong wants long-term solutions. She is president of the New Britain Racial Justice Coalition, an organization for racial and economic justice that started in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.
For Strong, it’s about "really starting to invest in our communities and starting to address the root of crime, which is poverty and mental health, instead of putting more police, criminalizing our community and instituting more violence.”
She said she’s lost faith in the criminal justice system, but she hopes the outcome of the ongoing Derek Chauvin trial and protests across the nation will bring investment in communities rather than in more policing.