After the death of 46-year-old Minnesota man George Floyd, protests sparked in Minnesota, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, St. Louis, and now, Long Island.
In Wyandanch, protestors marched around Wyandanch Village and lined themselves across Straight Path chanting “Black lives matter,” “This is what democracy looks like,” “No people united can ever be defeated,” and “I can’t breathe.”
The rally was attended by individuals of different ages, races and backgrounds. Organizers Belinda Molina, Sam Law and Lisa Eguizabal created the protest to speak out against the recent killings of Floyd, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was shot by the police while sleeping in her home, 25-year-old Ahmad Aubrey, who was gunned down by a former officer and his son, and many other Black lives that have been taken.
“I am a Latino with an Afro-Latino son who has been a target of police harassment since he was a teenager in NYC because of stop-and-frisk,” said Eguizabal. “Our communities of color have been grieving every day for another brother or sister harassed, abused, tortured and murdered by the hands of those who are ‘suppose’ to serve and protect.”
In Brentwood the next day, crowds swelled up to about 300 people of varying races and ages.
“George Floyd should be alive,” said Anthony Torres who attended the protest. “I believe we must come together as Long Islanders to say Black lives matter here. I saw the video of George Floyd being killed because of an age-old lie that his life mattered less. It’s clear we need to overhaul policing to ensure safety and freedom.”
“The George Floyd video is actually one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my entire 25 years of living,” said Desmond Waul, who attended the Brentwood protest too. “That situation was me at one time and I survived. A Black Lives Matter protest is extremely important for Long Island. It’s mostly known for its predominantly racist white culture and for limiting access for African-Americans. The famous Levittown is the literal model for suburbs and was extremely racist.”
The housing suburb, which was created in 1947 by William Levitt, was designed to house World War II veterans, but was in leases given to home owners it stipulated that, “the tenant agrees not to permit the premises to be sued or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”
Mariana Pineda, who helped organize the Brentwood protest, brought up this disparity as well.
“Long Island is home to some of the most racially segregated communities in the country,” said Pineda, who pointed out the disparities between majority-white and majority-minority school districts. “I’m a teacher in the Roosevelt school district, but my daughter, with her white Italian American-born father, graduated from Bellmore-Merrick schools. The disparities between the two are too great to ignore.”
According to a study done by EdBuild, sharp contrasts in race and funding on Long Island exist in over 50 school districts. One example they point out is the difference Hempstead and Rockville Centre school districts. Hempstead is two percent white, 24% Black and 71% Hispanic, and spends $23,392 per student. The neighboring district, Rockville Centre, is 75% white, six percent Black and 12% Hispanic, and spends $7,500 more per student.
Sharon, another organizer for the Brentwood protest who chose not to release her full name, is from Brentwood and said she thought it was vital to have a protest on Long Island.
“The idea of organizing a protest came from the idea of one of my friends telling me we should attend a protest in the city,” said Sharon. “Due to the pandemic, I told them we should do something here. I wanted to be very vocal about it since there is still a lot of internalized racism in Latinx communities. I wanted to use my privilege as much as possible to voice that across that community. Long Island is also very pro-cop, and we want our voices to be heard here.”
Waul, who is Black, advised others who are not Black and want to participate as an ally to be humane and knowledgeable but not a know-it-all.
“An ally should do diligent research on the matter at hand, but should be willing to be coached,” said Waul. “They should also show complete empathy and sympathy for the situation.”