“No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe” chanted hundreds of protesters gathered near the intersection of routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station. Wielding signs condemning police brutality and racism, scores of passing cars near the intersection honked their horns in a show of support. The June 1 rally was one of many peaceful demonstrations occurring around the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a now-fired and arrested police officer.
“We have seen the murders of black men, women and children, this wasn’t an isolated incident,” said Skyler Johnson, a Mount Sinai resident and Suffolk County Community College graduate who organized the rally. Johnson is set to primary several other Democrats in the race for state Senate 1st District seat. “We are here to show that we won’t stand for this anymore.”
Anthwan Newell of Uniondale said he was glad to see an ethnically diverse group of protesters.
“I’m happy to see so many people stepping out of their comfort zones and really letting their voices be heard,” he said
Newell, who made the trip to Port Jefferson Station with a group of friends, reiterated the need for immediate change.
“As black people, we sadly have gotten numb to seeing someone killed by police brutality,” he said. “We’re all out here for the same reasons, we’re fighting for change. It has to happen, and it has to happen fast.”
Josh Parish and Ashley Barry of Centereach said white people can’t ignore this issue anymore, especially on Long Island.
“It is important to not let people forget what is going on,” Barry said. “People can’t drive past us today without seeing and reading the signs and hearing the chants.”
He stressed the need for institutional reform in law enforcement and to demilitarize police departments.
“It is not just one cop, it is a systemic issue — it starts from the top,” Barry said.
Denzel Johnson of Coram said conversations on racism need to continue after these protests.
“It is still here, and it won’t go away until we make a change,” the Coram resident said. “The only way to make that change is by taking that first step and that’s what we’re doing today. This is a great demonstration, it is good to see people of all colors standing together against racism.”
Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct was on hand and reached out to organizers beforehand to ask if they could stand with the protesters. More than a dozen police officers monitored the rally.
The nationwide protests were sparked by a video that was shown on TV and circulated on social media showing Floyd on the ground as a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin, who was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department, has been charged with third-degree murder. Three other officers who were at the scene were also fired but have not been charged with a crime.
Protests have rocked the country, with some of them turning violent in several major metropolitan areas, including New York City. Long Island has already seen several such protests in places like Brentwood, but most have remained peaceful. Late on Monday, June 1, police said a group of approximately 100 protesters marched toward the 7th Precinct building in Shirley, but police set up a skirmish line along William Floyd Parkway, and after two hours the crowd disbursed.
Throughout the week, local officials have weighed in on the issue.
“In my 30 years of service, I have never witnessed such a cruel and heinous act of violence by anyone wearing the uniform as we saw in Minnesota last week,” said Errol Toulon Jr. (D), the Suffolk County sheriff. “The killing of George Floyd is so contrary to the mission of law enforcement, and to the oath that officials take to uphold the Constitution. We must never forget that we are here to protect the rights of the people.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) called Chauvin’s actions a type of racism.
“Perhaps the most disturbing thing is the lack of concern that this officer showed in knowing that he was being videotaped,” Bellone said. “That suggests this officer felt that there was no accountability.”