Wilton editorial: Wilton, heal thyself

A crowd of near two hundred gathered along route 7 at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Wilton on June 2, 2020, to protest police brutality.

A crowd of near two hundred gathered along route 7 at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Wilton on June 2, 2020, to protest police brutality.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

It’s always interesting to look at back issues of newspapers. It’s fun to see what was making headlines back in the day, how much things cost and so forth.

Sometimes you find what you least expect and that is what happened last week when a search for some graduation inspiration turned up an editorial titled “Respond to the hate.” It was in response to a hate-filled, racist message scrawled on the pavement of Middlebrook Farm Road. This was in 2003.

“This is a time for police, the schools, adults and children to unite and speak up,” the editorial said. “The haters need to know that the rest of the community has free speech rights, too. A strong message of tolerance for differences needs to reach home, where prejudices and stereotypes are usually learned at an early age.

“It’s too easy to blame the white power music or hate group Web sites or even the occasional ignorant and intolerant statements made in Washington or from pulpits. We all need to look into ourselves for prejudices and stereotypes and how much we tolerate and perpetuate them.”

So, here we are again.

Prejudice raises its ugly head in Wilton periodically. Swastikas and anti-Semitic propaganda and vandalism to a Hindu temple are the most recent incarnations of ugly behavior to come to mind. The response has been proclamations, candlelight vigils, and a community-wide consciousness-raising campaign. All are worthy efforts to be sure, but results are hard to calculate.

Last Tuesday there seemed to be a tipping point. In 2015, several dozen people turned out for a vigil here following the deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. In 2017, about 100 held candles in silence following the clash between protesters and white supremacists in Charlottesville. Last Tuesday, the crowd at the anti-racism protest at Our Lady of Fatima was between 200 to 300.

Will it make a difference? As Father Reggie Norman, Our Lady of Fatima’s pastor said, 400 years of racism and cruelty will not be easily erased. What counts more is what happens next. Wilton cannot cure the nation’s ills, but it can work to cure its own.

The Rev. Shannon White exhorted the white people in the crowd before her to teach themselves about racism in all its forms. To recognize the white privilege that nearly everyone in this town enjoys. To do the hard work of talking about it and then living up to what is learned.

A large group of young people on June 2, somewhere between 50 and 100, expressed strong emotions after the initial event. They marched down Route 7 and sat in front of town hall. Unfortunately, they directed their anger at Wilton’s police department, inferring bias among its ranks.

The police could have scattered the group, but they didn’t. Instead, Chief John Lynch stood in the middle of Route 7 with the protesters, answering their questions, trying to make a connection. The police work hard to connect with the community but theirs is a difficult job since it is almost entirely conducted when people are in crisis, large or small. Still, Lynch took their concerns to heart rather than rejecting them.

“The fact some people feel fear driving through Wilton, whether justified or not, tells us we have a lot of work to do,” he later told the police commission at its meeting on June 9.

The bottom line is we all have a lot to do. Will there be community conversations on racism? Will people attend? Will 2020 be any different, or will people carry on as before?

Only time will tell.