The shooting death of 18-year-old Anthony Jose "Chulo" Vega Cruz by a Wethersfield police officer prompted protesters to take to the streets of Hartford and Wethersfield Thursday night.
Javon Alston and a group of his friends gathered at Cruz's childhood home in Hartford, then began marching down Main Street in downtown Hartford, wearing shirts and carrying signs that said, "Justice for Chulo." From there, they marched to Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield, the same street where their friend was shot by officer Layau Eulizier Jr. after a traffic stop on Saturday. Cruz was on life support, then died Monday from gunshot wounds.
"We had to come collectively because if we don't, no one will do it for us," said Alston. "Every day, you know, until we get justice or come up with a solution or give us the answers we need to get, we're going to come out here every day. It's a lot of yelling but it's a lot of pain behind it because a lot of people knew him for years," said Alston.
Already gathered in Wethersfield outside of the police station was a group of protesters organized by Bishop John Selders, co-founder of Moral Monday Connecticut.
"We're sad that once again we have to gather like this to respond to another police-involved fatal shooting of a Black or brown man," Selders said.
At one point, Cruz's father, Jose Vega, spoke to the crowd over the phone through a loud speaker.
"I'm really upset about what happened to my son," Vega said through a translator. "This is an injustice because the pain that I feel right now is not going to be repaired easily. This police officer committed an injustice without any reason."
Standing in the back was Cruz's older brother Anthony Colon who said it "took a lot of strength" for him to come out to the march Thursday night. Jazmarie Melendez also took part in the march. Her brother, 15-year-old Jayson Negron, was shot and killed by Bridgeport police officer James Boulay on May 9, 2017.
Waterbury state's attorney Maureen Platt said the officer in that case was justified in using deadly force, writing in her report that Boulay said "he was in fear of being dragged under the Subaru being operated by Jayson Negron and discharged his weapon only after he had been struck by the vehicle and believed he was about to be subjected to serious bodily harm." Negron's family still disagrees with this claim and the series of events that lead to his death.
The Wethersfield investigation is being handled by Hartford state's attorney Gail P. Hardy, who says the dash cam footage will be released. Police claim that Cruz drove away during a traffic stop then drove at the officers when they attempted to stop him again.
"Wethersfield Police have occupied an infamous space in racial profiling reports," Selders said. "Wethersfield, you have a problem. This chief, this city concil, this city manager, this mayor -- they all have something to account for."
Since 2015, the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project (CTRP3) has conducted a statewide analysis of 107 police departments in the state of Connecticut. Wethersfield is the only department that's been in the top five each year.
"Every department has some degree of racial disparities in their traffic stop data," said Ken Barone, CTRP3's project manager. "But Wethersfield has continued to stand out where those disparities are significant. The nature of traffic enforcement changed pretty drastically depending on where an officer was patrolling."
Barone said that stops on the portion of Silas Deane Highway closer to the Rocky Hill border were linked to "hazardous driving behavior" like speeding, running a stop sign or running a red light, compared to stops at the Hartford border, which were related to "equipment enforcement" like window tints, license plate display issues, or defective vehicle lights.
"Police don't appear to be looking for unregistered vehicles in areas that are more likely to be traveled by white drivers," said Barone. "It perpetuates a feeling that exists within minority communities that the bar is different for them in terms of when they're stopped."
At the protest, Cruz's family and friends spoke out against police claims that he drove his car at officers.
"The potrayal of Chulo as a criminal is untrue," said Davon Colon, Cruz's nephew. "I think he was profiled. He would never have hurt anyone."
The family has retained Attorney Benjamin Crump to represent them in legal proceedings that may follow the teen's death. Crump's Florida-based practice has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, young men of color who died in high-profile shootings. Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
Cruz's death is one of a recent handful of shootings across the state, not all involving police. Felipe Lopez, a 16-year-old Windsor student and father was shot and killed in Hartford this week.
"We're fight for everybody, not just Chulo," said Alston, a close friend of Cruz's. "For anybody who's been killed -- it's a lot of murders going on and we just want it all to be stopped, whether it's from the police or just each other. Any killings or deaths, we just hope it all will be resolved and everybody will just live and do better."