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White Coats for Black Lives

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.