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Black Lives Matter

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A dozen people stood on the corner of Main Street and Route 25A Aug. 1 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Photo by Odeya Rosenband

By Odeya Rosenband and Rita J. Egan

Community members gathered on the corner of Main Street and Route 25A in East Setauket Aug. 1. They were there to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

A protester at the Aug. 1 rally. Photo by Odeya Rosenband

Standing in front of the Pen & Pencil Building, about a dozen ralliers held signs reading, “Racial equality now,” “Equality & justice for All, Black Lives Matter,” “Stop the hate” and “A change is gonna come.”

One of the organizers, Kathy Schiavone of Port Jefferson, said they picked the corner because it’s a well-trafficked intersection with a red light, which would give drivers an opportunity to read their signs. The participants received displays of support from some drivers honking or giving the thumbs up, while others in vehicles passing by yelled out, “Communists,” “Trump 2020,” “All lives matter,” “Blue lives matter” and “Get over it.”

“We are only on this planet for a short period of time, and it really behooves us to be kind to one another,” Schiavone said. “And as Rodney King [a 1992 police victim] said, ‘Can we all just get along?’”

She said she was touched by the work of former Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D), a civil rights activist who would frequently say get into “good trouble.” The congressman died July 17.

“It brings tears to my eyes when I listen to the tributes for him and all he went through his entire life for the good of the community, and I just want to support the Black Lives Movement and everyone who feels that they need support at this time,” she said.

Protester Sue Hoff, also of Port Jefferson, said she participated to make it known that she believes in the movement. She said of the upcoming 2020 election, “I’m voting Black Lives Matter.” She has protested since the late 1950s for civil rights, for peace during the Vietnam War and for the reduction of nuclear weapons.

“I have grandchildren,” she said. “I’m not going to give up.”

Another protester, Kevin Mulligan of Setauket, said it was a responsibility to speak out.

“It’s an obligation in these times of political divisiveness to choose a side and not stay complacent and set a model for the children that change only comes through action,” he said.

Attendee Jeff Goldschmidt said as a longtime resident in the Stony Brook area the last few years have been revealing to him.

“I never knew Suffolk County was so undemocratic,” he said. “It’s so red and so bigoted. I was very surprised.”

Organizer Christina Maffia, of Setauket, said it was important to her to rally at the corner because she feels the nation’s rhetoric has turned negative, especially after what happened with the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May.

“Just because people feel Black lives matter does not mean white lives don’t matter or blue lives don’t matter,” she said. Because if Black lives matter, we wouldn’t have to worry about anybody else’s life mattering, because all lives would matter.”

Protesters across the North Shore have been active in recent protests on Long Island such as the one that took place in Stony Brook June 7. Photo by Mike Reilly

While 2020 will be remembered for the coronavirus, this year’s summer will be recorded in the history books for the millions of voices speaking out against injustice and police brutality across the country.

Ashley Payano has been among the protest organizers along the North Shore.

The H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge will be the site of a rally this Saturday, Aug. 1, where activist group Long Island Fight for Equality intends to host an event to speak out against racial injustice and inequality from 2 to 6 p.m. The rally as well as a march comes more than two months after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer which reignited outrage over police brutality in the U.S.

The summer has been filled with hundreds of Black Lives Matter protests such as in Hauppauge, Port Jefferson Station, Stony Brook and multiple ones through the streets of Smithtown and Huntington in June and July. While most have been peaceful, some have seen the conflict between protester and cop escalate, such as when at a recent Babylon protest, three participants from Black White Brown United were arrested, including a Stony Brook resident charged with harassment, according to Suffolk County police.

Couple Ashley Payano, 23, and Ian Atkinson, 26, are organizing the Aug. 1 Hauppauge rally and march. Together, they have helped assemble as well as attend about half-a-dozen protests and rallies in the last couple of months. Atkinson lives in Farmingville, while Payano splits her time between the Bronx and Long Island, with plans to move to the Island in the future. They are just two among scores of protest leaders, but having attended many such protests on Long Island, they said momentum is still strong.

“As a young Black person, these struggles affect me and my family directly so I couldn’t imagine not taking part in it,” Payano said.

Atkinson said the number of people at these protests has varied. At one in Stony Brook near the Smith Haven Mall, there were more than 1,000 attendees, while a Port Jeff Station protest saw around 150 people at its peak. Payano said a fundraising aspect has been added to many of the rallies, with protesters asked to bring canned goods and hygiene products to be donated to those in need.

Payano said she feels this is an extension of the civil rights movement and believes that the passion will lead to actual change.

“I think that instead of this being about protests, I think this is a movement,” she said. “It is for change. I think it’s important to continue to practice civil disobedience and civil unrest.”

Atkinson said he is driven by frustration because he feels many have not experienced the freedom and equality that the country stands for.

“Clearly, it hasn’t been the way it’s supposed to be for certain populations,” he said. “African Americans, minorities, are not treated fairly or equally in this country.”

He said he also believes that the civil rights movement leaders didn’t get everything they were fighting for.

“We know what we’re fighting for and we’re not looking to stop until we’ve gotten it,” he said.

Several weeks after the start of the BLM protests, a counter movement, largely either called pro-police rallies or Blue Lives Matter rallies have garnered hundreds of participants, such as one in Port Jefferson Station June 22. Though many of these rallies have been led by and have featured conservative figures such as U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and former Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, participants have called on people to support police, who they say have been attacked unfairly.

Ian Atkinson has been among the protest organizers along the North Shore.

Atkinson said the Blue Lives Matter rallies have added to his frustrations.

“They’re completely missing the point,” he said. “They don’t stand for anything. It’s just frustrating because they’re kind of going against the belief that everyone should be equal.”

Payano, who has been involved in music, acting and real estate, and is planning to take some college courses this school year, said she has been politically active since age 15, as her father spoke out often about housing issues in the Bronx. She said she has been part of similar efforts through the years when a young Black person’s death was followed by protests, but she hasn’t seen them last as long as they have now.

The Bronx native said the more she comes to Long Island the more she notices de facto segregation and the impact of redlining, which has disturbed her. She said she also notices that people will sometimes stare at her when she and Atkinson are on Long Island. However, she added that she has seen a diverse group of people of all different backgrounds and ages at rallies throughout the Island, except in Brentwood where there were more attendees of color.

“It’s really nice to meet people from all backgrounds who believe in the same thing,” she said. “And the people who honk their cars and pass by, it showed me there are more people in support of this movement than not.”

Atkinson, who works with the developmentally disabled to help them adapt to everyday life, is looking toward a future with Payano, who he met at a paint night in Manhattan. The Long Islander said he hopes to see their children grow up in a different environment.

“I don’t want them to grow up in a community where they’re not looked at like everyone else,” he said.

Atkinson and Payano said in all the protests they’ve been part of, everyone has been asked to wear a mask and stay home if they are immunocompromised. So far, the majority have seemed to comply. The couple have also encountered counter protesters, but Atkinson said they welcome conversation, even though at times it can be scary after hearing of stories such as a Black Lives Matter protester being attacked or having water thrown on them.

“We welcome the discussion as long as they are willing to hear us out,” he said.

Payano said while some discussions are disheartening, she understands why it’s hard for people to believe that their loved ones or even themselves “have been practicing bigotry.” She said she looks at the debates from a sociological standpoint.

“Our brain is programmed to protect us from things that will hurt us whether it’s emotionally or our sense of self or identity or belief system that we have ingrained in us, which is very well capable of growth of change,” she said. “But a lot of people have a belief system, and they would prefer to avoid the instability of having to start from scratch.”

Regarding change, Payano is optimistic.

“It’s going to take a while, but I believe it’s possible,” she said.

Long Islanders marched down Smithtown’s Main Street June 7. Photo by Rita J. Egan

One thing we should all find comfort in is that people are not willing to let injustice go unanswered.

Anyone who has a shred of decency and an ounce of moral concern knows that what happened to Minneapolis man George Floyd was brutal, cruel and a significant abuse of power. Police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of a man for just under nine minutes, despite video evidence showing he did not present any danger to officers at the scene. Three other police officers looked on while Floyd called out for his mother, dying, without them raising a finger to help or make any point of protest. 

To some, this seems just a singular instance of cruelty, but for the massive numbers of protesters rallying and marching around the country, and now the world, it was just another instance of continued injustice on our minority communities. That is why the protests have been nearly unrelenting. That’s why the movement has spread to all parts of the country, including our backyard.

So far on Long Island, all protests have remained peaceful and have taken place at sites meant to facilitate large gatherings, all with a police presence. There have been some tense moments, and so far two people in Suffolk have been arrested relating to a protest in Shirley, but nowhere on Long Island have we seen the violence taking place in major cities. It’s important we recognize that while those protests have seen injury to both protesters and cops as well as property — though let’s remember that the life of any one individual vastly outweighs any and all damage to structures — there are many instances of police using extreme force on protesters, medics and journalists, as if proving the very point of the need to end such injustice.

But though those kinds of protests are not happening on Long Island, by reading some residents’ opinions on social media, you would think protesters are all walking down suburban streets ready to attack anyone who crosses their paths.

Activists across Long Island have been working very hard to maintain civility with these protests against injustice. That’s not to say events haven’t gotten heated, as in the case with protests in Merrick which faced plenty of racist sentiment and in Smithtown where one young man claims he and his friends were attacked. In Huntington, one restaurant owner came under fire for being caught making racist comments about “throwing watermelons at protesters” as they marched through downtown. He has since made a video apologizing for his remarks.

We all have to understand why these people rally and march. Long Island remains a very segregated place, as evidenced by a three-year Newsday report displaying racial bias on the part of many real estate agents and agencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has only laid bare the inadequacies, as minority communities have been disproportionately infected while their schools have struggled harder than most to teach their children when many don’t have access to online technology.

We commend the conscientious work of protest leaders, activists, local officials and police to facilitate these rallies and make sure they remain on point and peaceful, and also protect those who rally from being the target of violence as well.

To those residents who look on protesters with concern, often the best way to understand them is to simply speak with them. Start a dialogue. Understand where they’re coming from. Protests such as these aren’t designed to give certain populations benefit over others, but to reach an equality mandated under the words of the Constitution.

Just remember, if you yourself say you can separate good cops from bad cops, then you can separate peaceful protesters from rioters.

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Protesters returned to Smithtown June 9 to call for an end to racial injustice and police brutality on the day George Floyd was being laid to rest in Houston. The latest demonstration drew a large crowd — at its peak there were more than 1,000 individuals.

The June 9 gathering was the second one to take place in the town in one week.

The protest began at the Smithtown train station on Redwood Lane at 6 p.m., then made its way down Main Street. Groups convened at the intersection of Route 25A and 111 near the Millennium Diner, where everyone began the over 4-mile trek toward Route 347 as they walked down Hauppauge Road.

Additional protesters continued to join the walk as the crowd passed residential areas and neighborhoods. Some residents stood out in front of their homes to cheer on the protesters as they passed.

When protesters made it to the intersection of Route 347 and 111, traffic was shut down in both directions. It was there protesters participated in an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence, the length of time George Floyd was pinned to the ground under a police officer’s knee. Speeches were given, encouraging people present to continue to be a part of the ongoing movement and to call out injustices.

From there, protesters splintered off into separate groups, some headed toward the 4th Precinct on Veterans Highway, while others walked north on Brooksite Drive from Route 347 and some reconvened back at Main Street.

At 9:30 p.m., Smithtown Public Safety reported that hundreds were on Veterans Highway heading east and several hundred were all still on Main Street.

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Long Islanders marching down Smithtown’s Main Street June 7 wanted residents to hear their cries — “Black Lives Matter.”

Protesters began to rally Sunday afternoon in front of Stop & Shop slightly east of the town’s iconic Whisper the Bull statue. The protest that was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. was switched to 4 p.m. the night before, and while some still came early, the crowd grew to more than 1,000 as the hour approached 4.

Protesters holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “If You Don’t Care, You’re the Problem,” “The Names Change But the Color Doesn’t,” and more were mostly greeted with drivers honking support and even some passengers sticking their arms and heads out of car windows and sunroofs to show their own signs.

Around 5 p.m., Suffolk County Police Department officers began blocking off Main Street with vehicles. Officers both on foot and bicycles lead the protesters eastward from Stop & Shop along the town’s main corridor.

Along the way, just as they did in front of Stop & Shop, the protesters yelled “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” “Take Your Knee off My Neck,” and shouted the names of victims of police brutality, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

As they approached the train station and Katie’s bar where counter-protesters stood waving American flags, the BLM group stopped, and although words were exchanged, including obscenities, no violence ensued at the spot.

The BLM protesters then proceeded to Smithtown’s Town Hall where they stopped to chant for a few minutes. Officers then continued escorting them to the intersection of Main and Route 111, where some protesters took a knee. Then participants headed back to the Stop & Shop parking lot, and officers helped with traffic control as many left Smithtown at the same time.

Town of Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the rally was a peaceful one, and she complimented the SCPD for a wonderful job.

SCPD reported that during the protest one male was treated for minor injuries at the scene, but they did not disclose how the injuries occurred. Fourth Precinct detectives, 4th Squad and Suffolk County Hate Crimes Unit are also investigating another incident involving alleged violence against a protester. A person calling himself Alejandro, who said he lives close to Smithtown, posted to Instagram, under the name ivpokko, that after the protest he was attacked by people antagonizing him and others at the march. Another rally is scheduled in response to the alleged incident in Smithtown June 9 at 6 p.m. by the train station. An attempt to reach Alejandro through social media for a comment was unsuccessful.

Before the protest, town representatives and the SCPD met with organizer Caitlyn Matos-Rodriquez to ensure that the event remained peaceful.

A week before the protest a flyer promoting the event circulated through social media. The flyer depicted marchers holding up their fists in the classic black power symbol, though it also depicted fires from Minneapolis and included the words “Bring your spirit in all its inferno.”

Many Smithtown residents and business owners feared that the protest would become violent, prompting a few proprietors to sit outside of their stores during the event, while other business owners handed out water to those who were participating.

In an interview with TBR News Media before the protest, Matos-Rodriguez said there had been much misinformation on social media about her and the planned protest. Because of the misinformation and rumors, she had received multiple violent threats to her and other protesters from residents.

“I have never condoned violence on this protest,” she said. “My goal of this protest is to bring our voices into segregated towns of Long Island. Our roots on Long Island rival next to Jim Crow [laws] of the south — you can see that by the geography of Long Island alone.”

Matos-Rodriguez added the point of the protest was to help open up more job opportunities, real estate opportunities and credit building opportunities for marginalized people of color.

For more photos, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

Updated June 8 at 4 p.m. to add additional information on alleged attack.

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Approximately a dozen clergy members stood for equality at a Setauket intersection June 5.

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association gathered on the southeast and northeast corners of Route 25A and Bennetts Road/North Country Road. On the muggy Friday, with signs in hand, the peaceful protesters wanted to let the community know that black lives matter. The protest was in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer.

The Rev. Linda Anderson, community minister in affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, said it was important to organize the event with faithful people from different religions.

“We wanted to show people that we can stand together for peace and for justice, and that is what our faiths ask us,” she said.

The Rev. Gregory Leonard, of Setauket’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and one of the founding members of the grassroots organization Building Bridges in Brookhaven, said when it comes to residents caring about an issue, it starts with the faith communities. The pastor said at this significant moment in history, the group couldn’t let it pass by without doing something.

“This is a big moment,” he said. “Something is happening, and it could be something good if we stand up and speak up, and it could be something negative if we just sit there and don’t say anything.”

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, from Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, said the individual congregations have been emphasizing the importance of human rights, but he said it was important to come together as a community.

“This is not something that affects one group, one religion or one part of our society, but it affects everyone — everyone who believes in freedom, who believes in justice and equal rights,” he said.

Elaine Learnard, a Quaker and member of Conscience Bay Friends Meeting, said it was important for her to take part.

“Quakers, since the beginning, have believed in equality of all, and like most of the nation, we haven’t always lived up to our ideals, and it’s important,” she said. “This is a time to me of crisis with potential for great change, and it’s important to be heard and seen in support of the equality of all.”

The majority of the drivers passing by were honking and giving nods of approval.

“I think our signs saying who we are, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, I think that helps people have goodwill and maybe make some of them think a little bit,” Anderson said.

Leonard was not surprised.

“I have always known here in the Three Village there are more compassionate, good people than there are those who are afraid and negative,” he said.

Though Leonard did notice a few negative gestures that didn’t deter his hope in people.

“You know what, it’s the start of a dialogue, talking to each other,” he said. “When we talk to each other, get to know one another then hopefully things like what happened with George Floyd will become less and less. I think there will always be hatred and ignorance in the world. I think that’s just the way it is, but today the Three Village clergy and the other people who have joined us are making a statement that what’s going on is not right. We need to respect each other. We need to get to know one another. We need to build bridges to one another.”

Sidlofsky said the negative is expected as sometimes people misinterpret the message.

“We have to realize that when we stand up for the rights of one group such as the African American community, it doesn’t mean you’re denying the rights of others, it means you’re enhancing human rights,” he said.

Anderson said she has faith in the future.

“I always have faith and trust in the goodness that’s in humanity and I think, I hope, that we perhaps have hit a bottom and the only place to go is up,” she said.

The Rev. Ashley McFaul-Erwin, community outreach pastor for Setauket Presbyterian Church, who grew up in Northern Ireland, is also hopeful.

“I really believe in the inherent goodness in all people,” she said, adding it will take hard work to continue building relationships. “I think at the heart of it, even though we’re very divided right now, there’s a goodness that I hope will come through.”

Leonard said, regarding Floyd’s death, the thing that sticks with him most is how he cried out for his mother who died two years earlier.

“When he called out for his mother, he called out for all mothers black and white, rich and poor,” the pastor said. “That was very meaningful for me and something to think about regarding the tragedy of his death.”

Hundreds of protesters stand at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station Monday, June 1 to protest police violence, especially against people of color. Photo by David Luces

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Stepping outside of our homes presents risks. We could have a car accident on the way to work or a branch could fall on us, among myriad other potential dangers.

These days, the risks of leaving our homes have escalated. We could catch the dreaded coronavirus anywhere if we stand closer than six feet to anyone.

Nowadays, interactions that we engaged in all of our lives with friends and family, such as shaking hands or hugging, increase the risk of picking up the invisible enemy, bringing it to our home sanctuaries and infecting our partners, children, and parents.

We have learned to manage the risks we’ve now heard about for months by staying as far away from other people as we can and by wearing masks.

And yet, for some Americans, the risks of stepping outside of homes where we were hopefully safe most of the time, was clearly higher than it was for other Americans.

Indeed, the risks of dying from coronavirus differed by race. The age-adjusted death rate in Suffolk County for whites was 49.5 per 100,000 people, according to statistics from the Department of Health. For Hispanics on Long Island, that number is 108.7, which is more than twice the rate per 100,000 people. For blacks, the number is an astronomical 170.1 deaths per 100,000 people in the county, which is well over three times the rate for whites.

Those statistics generally track the disproportionate toll the virus has had on communities of color.

Now, layer on top of that the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. Seemingly at the worst possible time for our country, as businesses are just starting to reopen and as standing within 6 feet of each other increases the chance of our catching a virus that has claimed over 100,000 American lives, people are going outside in huge numbers across the country to express their outrage over Floyd’s killing at the seemingly indifferent hands of a white police officer who faces third-degree murder charges.

Those African-Americans who gather, at the risk of contracting an infection that has already wreaked havoc in their communities, are expressing anger and frustration at a justice system that appears anything but just.

The news coverage of the protests has often focused on the most explosive and terrifying events, where looting and setting fire to police cars and engaging in random acts of violence have occurred. Those shocking actions are inexcusable manifestations of those frustrations, turning justifiable disappointment into illegal acts. These moments also threaten to overshadow the message from so many others who would like to see constructive changes.

Many peaceful protestors, however, might have the same approach to the risks of joining others to protest Floyd’s murder that President Donald Trump (R) did to the notion of taking hydroxychloroquine, which may or may not reduce the health effects and dangers of COVID-19.

What, they might wonder, do they have to lose at this point?

The answer is not so simple, particularly as the risk of getting arrested, hit with a rubber bullet or vomiting from inhaling tear gas increases.

The dangers in stepping outside into a world filled with a virus that infects our bodies and cultural viruses that threaten the soul of the country are especially high in a year with overtones from the civil unrest of the 1960’s.

Peaceful protestors can and should demand and expect the kind of changes that will allow them and their children to step outside to a country where the risks from being out of their homes shouldn’t depend on the color of their skin.

Hundreds of protesters stand at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station Monday, June 1 to protest police violence, especially against people of color. Photo by David Luces

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This year will be remembered in much the same way as 2001, 1968 and even 1941 are remembered. And the year is not even half over yet. Those were years when we were embroiled in conflict; we the people of the United States of America. In 1968, we experienced internal strife, with protesters taking to the streets against the Vietnam War and racism in society. The other two historic years, the strife came from outside the country. This year we have both.

It required protests in 140 cities across the nation, triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, to push aside the daily counts of illness and death from COVID-19 at the top of the news. And like 1968, this is a year of national elections, so throw in a heavy dose of politics into a climate of extreme political partisanship.

Peaceful demonstrations catalyzed by grief and anger at the video proof of police officers killing George Floyd, a black man in their custody, have morphed in many instances into chaotic and often deadly attacks on police as they try to control rioting, vandalism, fires and looting in the cities. 

Protesters have sometimes tried to stop looters, adding to the wrestling for control of the streets. And all of that is happening as more than 100,000 Americans have died and close to two million have been sickened, victims of the coronavirus. The possibility of a spike in the pandemic from the gathering of crowds pouring out of their sheltering-in-place homes in protest is another concern for health officials. The situation is certainly not helped by the more than 40 million people now unemployed. Disease, economic challenges and social unrest are combining to inflame our country.

Where do we go from here?

For our health problem, the answers are simpler. As our lives become more liberated by the phased openings, we must still maintain caution during our comings and goings. We need to wear masks when interacting with others, even one other. We must practice social distancing of at least 6 feet of separation when we are with others who are new to our antiviral sheltering circle. We can get tested more easily now should symptoms prompt such action. We should continue to diligently wash our hands, especially after touching any common surfaces, like doorknobs or railings. And extra resources must be given to areas with extra caseloads.

The racism problem is not so straightforward. It has been embedded in our country since before its founding, and it will take much more than words to alleviate. 

We need to work together across communities to root out discrimination and inequalities in health care, educational access, employment opportunities and policing. That starts with the birth of each baby in a safe and professional environment, and follows that child through pre-school right up through full schooling with competent teachers, administrators and resources, jobs that can pay at least a living wage and housing in a safe and pleasant neighborhood.

Is it possible for societies to do all that?

Many systems have been tried to help level the playing field. None of them has worked so far. While all people might have equal rights, not all people have equal abilities or equal good luck. Some will always be better off than others. Democracy offers vital freedoms and choices. But the will of the majority must always be accompanied by protection for the rights of minorities. Good governments can do that. Capitalism offers rewards for enterprise. But good government must control its excesses. Presumably we can all agree on these principles.

But how do we end bigotry?

Racism is bigotry based on differences of skin color. Anti-Semitism is based on differences of religion, as is anti-Catholicism and anti-Muslimism and countless other theological beliefs. People kill each other over such defining differences. At different times in human history, such bigotry seems to lessen. People intermarry, live together in diverse communities, even vote each other into office.

But bigotry doesn’t disappear. It merely slumbers, like a pandemic gone underground. If we are to survive as a species, we must first unite.   

The Stony Brook University Chapter of Black Lives Matter. Photo by Douglas MacKaye Harrington.

By Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Last weekend the Three Villages confirmed that it is not just people of color who want to revamp the justice system in America. A coalition of community groups gathered at the Stony Brook LIRR station to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Members of Black Lives Matter Stony Brook Chapter, Building Bridges in Brookhaven, North Country Peace Group, the White Coats for Black Lives Stony Brook Medical School chapter, and the Racial Concerns Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stony Brook marched together.

The Racial Concerns Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stony Brook created the march, after a banner in support of Blacks Lives Matter was vandalized this past year. Barbara Coley, co-chair of the Racial Concerns Committee, said the aim of the walk is to highlight the need for change in America’s law enforcement.

“Our goal for this march and rally is to focus attention on the criminal justice system that needs reform because it targets poor black and brown boys and men,” she said. “We march and rally to show our support for the movement for black lives.”

But the more than 200 Black Lives Matter supporters were not the only participants in attendance Saturday.

Several dozen North Country Patriots members were also on the scene. The North Country Patriots have been meeting at that location for years in support of American troops and veterans. The group originated out of support for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

“All lives matter, especially our troops. These people have no respect.”
— Howard Ross

They came to share their opposition to the movement with shouts of “All lives matter” and “Blue lives matter” in response to the marchers’ chants of “Black lives matter.”

Vietnam Veteran Howard Ross expressed his opposition to Black Lives Matter.

“I don’t disagree with them, because I believe all lives matter, but they don’t look at it that way and that is the sad part,” he said. “All lives matter, especially our troops. These people have no respect; it has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter. These people have no respect for our country and our democracy.”

Fran Ginter, another resident gathered with the North Country Patriots, held up a sign to support the power she believed all Americans should have.

“My sign says #Balls Matter,” Ginter said. “And ‘balls’ meaning the strength and honor and courage that the American people have. And we shouldn’t be dividing each other with Black Lives Matter. We should be uniting one another with American Lives Matter, Balls Matter.”

Most Saturdays the patriot group outnumbers the peace group, but on this day, the several hundred Black Lives Matter supporters upped the volume on the opposition.

Ryan Madden said he does not think being a Black Lives Matter supporter means you can’t also support veterans, along with many other groups in America.

“It’s [Black Lives Matter] one of the most open and intersectional movements, and it’s not mutually exclusive from supporting vets,” he said. “It’s supporting black vets, disabled vets, trans vets, all people from all shades and backgrounds.”

When he heard people on the other side of the street yelling, “All lives matter,” in response to their chants of “Black lives matter,” he said the real issue isn’t being focused on.

“I think they have a problem with the word black, and that’s the problem,” Madden said. “Like what was just chanted, all lives won’t matter until black lives matter, until indigenous lives matter, until trans lives matter. It [All Lives Matter] thinks it’s being this inclusive framework, but it’s not. It’s not listening to people who are saying our lives don’t matter in this society currently.”

While many members of the march held the south curb, engaging their opposition activists across the road, a majority formed a circle beneath the trees for a rally on the knoll to listen to poems, prose, and speeches in support of the movement.

“I think they have a problem with the word black, and that’s the problem.”
—Ryan Madden

Among rally participants were the White Coats For Black Lives from Stony Brook University Medical School. Second year medical student Toni McKenzie explained the organization’s purpose.

“White Coats For Black Lives is a national initiative that works to eliminate racism in health care,” she said. “We work in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement because we believe inadequate community policing and mass incarceration often affects the psychosocial health of our minority patients.”

Suffolk County Police Department had a dozen officers on hand to control traffic and ensure safety during the protest. Officers walked on the road alongside the marchers to control the eastbound cars that traveled closest to the protest route.

This raised dissent with some protestors.

I am a little discouraged by the character of this march,” Marcus Brown, a member of the Black Lives Matter group said. “I was under the impression that we would only be having a police escort across 25A and Nicolls Road because it is such a perilous intersection. That was part of the condition of our organization’s participation in this march, that there would not be a police escort the entire way. Because Black Lives Matter does not concede the police and the black community as having mutual interest. We believe that our interest is fundamentally antagonistic to the police in this country whose social function is to maintain racial order at the expense of black people.”

Despite the criticism of police presence, the event was seen as huge success.

Mark Jacket of Building Bridges said the event helped bring more awareness to the community.

“The turnout is phenomenal!” he said. “The importance of having this in a place like Stony Brook, in a place that is a predominantly a white community, is to acknowledge that there are bad things happening in America. Even though it is not happening in our immediate neighborhood, it is happening in the nation we live in. White people need to admit that racism is still strong in America, and if they are not comfortable with that, they need to stand up and say something about it.”

Additional reporting contributed by Victoria Espinoza.

A scene from Huntington's Pride Parade. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

By Victoria Espinoza

Today I woke up with a stronger determination than ever to be an ally. An ally to the LGBTQ community, to the Black Lives Matter community, to the Muslim community, the Hispanic community and every other community that woke up this morning feeling scared of the future.

I had gay friends and relatives reach out to me last night as the results were becoming clearer, wondering if they’ll still be able to get married, to adopt children, to feel equal. They need to know they still have support behind them.

As much as those fears made me want to cry and shut down, the feeling of making sure they knew I was on their side and ready to fight for them was stronger.

But then came the embarrassment.

It is unacceptable to me that it took Donald Trump becoming president to feel this strongly about being the loudest ally I can for these communities. It took this dark of a cloud for me to see the light and promise to support like I never have before.

Voting against him clearly was not enough. Crying out and insulting the people who did vote for him isn’t either.

America has been called the great experiment. My God, does that feel accurate today more than ever. We need to keep this experiment moving in the right direction with inclusiveness. This is our country; we do not stop calling ourselves American because we disagree with our new leader.

That’s when we lose.

Those, like me, who feel despair after last night’s results can still win. Not can — we must. It has never been more crucial to stand up for those who have felt oppressed during this election cycle. If we don’t lend our voice to those who feel voiceless, then we are truly going backwards in this country.

Every American has the right to choose their presidential candidate. Almost every point of view is understandable from a certain angle, once you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the communities today who are terrified of a Trump administration. They are just as American as those who voted for him. They voted differently, but they accept the results and the new leader of this country.

And the rest of the country damn well better do the same for them, as an American.

With liberty and justice for all — not just pretty words, but a founding principle.

Victoria Espinoza is the editor of the Times of Huntington, Northport & East Northport and the Times of Smithtown.