New Haven — Hundreds of protesters occupied a portion of I-95 South in New Haven Sunday afternoon in a peaceful protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd.
Activists filled the southbound side of the interstate near Long Wharf, stopping traffic in both directions for about two hours before marching on to the New Haven Police Department headquarters. Activists sat in the middle of the highway, holding signs and chanting “no justice, no peace,” while some stopped cars honked in support.
Protesters began gathering in downtown New Haven around noon in response to a flyer that circulated on social media calling for a peaceful demonstration and march from Broadway to City Hall.
Black Lives Matter New Haven chapter’s co-founder Ala Ochumare spoke to the crowd and led chants of “We ain’t going nowhere until we’re free,” before leading the crowd down Elm Street towards the Green. Black Lives Matter organizers quickly became leaders in the protest, although they say they do not know who originally created the flyer calling for the march.
“For me, it’s really important for me to be out here to show that I’m in unison with everyone else,” said protester Alicia McKenzie. “I’m half black and my father and my brother have dealt with police brutality all their lives, and so for me, I’ve witnessed it. I’ve seen it growing up and it needs to change,” McKenzie said. “We’re tired of hashtags. We need justice, we need reform, and we need change now.”
As the growing crowd continued down Church Street, the protest turned and marched onto the Oak Street Connector. Police cars stopped traffic and allowed protesters to march up the interstate on ramp, where the crowd marched along I-95 South, shouting “Black Lives Matter” and “Don’t Shoot,” among other chants. Organizers then instructed the crowd to sit down, covering the entire southbound portion of the highway before the Long Wharf exit ramp.
On the northbound side of the highway, motorist Fran McDonald climbed out of his stopped car to watch the demonstration. He said he was travelling from New York back home to Massachusetts, but was not angry about the delay in his trip.
“Everything I’ve seen here has been incredibly powerful and peaceful,” McDonald said, “and I’m hoping there’s a big takeaway for everybody that’s involved — not only on the marching side but for the rest of us who are mildly inconvenienced by a mild delay, compared to what we have to fix in this country.”
Protester Jacqueline Torres, of New Haven, marveled at the sight of activists marching down the interstate emptied of cars. “It’s not every day we take over a highway, you know. It makes you want to cry…it’s just the power of everyone being together,” she said.
After about two hours, the protesters began to move off the interstate ramp and marched to the New Haven Police Department Headquarters.