Hundreds Protest Across the North Fork

Hundreds of protesters filled Jean Cochran Park in Peconic on Wednesday afternoon for a rally, followed by a march to Southold Town Police Headquarters, and, just a few hours later, hundreds more packed Third Street in Greenport for a rousing vigil to honor George Floyd and the many other people of color who have been the victims of police brutality.

The afternoon protest was organized by Kenny Black, the 27-year-old general sales manager at Little Lucharitos, which saluted him on social media Wednesday morning:

“Proud to see his commitment to community and this great cause. Our diversity is our power. Lucharitos stands with you.”

Mr. Black spoke pointedly about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, at the rally alongside a sculpture of an osprey atop a steel beam from the World Trade Center placed as a monument to fallen firefighters. The American flag beside him was at half staff for the New York victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We all matter but we can’t all matter until black lives matter,” he said of the frequent refrain of “All Lives Matter” used to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement.

His mother, Connise Black Williams, told the crowd that, while raising her kids in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, she had tell her kids to prove they were good kids, even though she knew they were already good.

Samantha Hokanson of Southold, who is white, said she is proposing a “grassroots reeducation of the white people of the North Fork.”

“Our time resting in the comfort of the blanket that was white supremacy is over,” she said. “If black people are imprisoned, so are we.”

The events on the North Fork came at a time of high tension between the community and the police, after a recent large party thrown for a retiring Southold Town Police sergeant in violation of New York’s Covid-19 restrictions.

About 300 people took part in the rally at Cochran Park, after which they marched down Peconic Lane, whose center stripe has long been painted blue in honor of the Southold Town Police, whose headquarters is at the Main Road end of Peconic Lane.

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At police headquarters, the protestors briefly called on the police standing outside headquarters to take a knee, before a woman in the crowd urged them to stop.

“We don’t beg for anything,” she said.

A couple hours later, a crowd gathered outside Greenport’s Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church on Third Street swelled to more than 500.

Rev. Natalie Wimberly said she’d originally envisioned the event as a silent vigil, but realized very quickly that it was going to be loud.

“It is 2020,” she said. “We don’t need to go back to 1940. Enough is enough. We’re here today, my sisters, my brothers, my friends and neighbors… We are coming together to say this is enough. Time out. No more deaths, no more violence, no more rioting in the streets. No more destruction, because we can’t destroy what people worked hard to build. You cannot destroy your community. You’ve got to build and you’ve gotta work to make change happen.”

The crowd included many people who had attended the earlier rally in Peconic, and many of the speakers took time to thank Mr. Black for organizing the afternoon rally, and some in the crowd suggested he should run for President.

“We all watched in outrage the murder of George Floyd, the result of police brutality perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy that has treated black people as enemies since 1619, when the first enslaved were brought to Jamestown,” said Valerie Shelby of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force.

“My thought when I saw that murder was that could be my brother,” she said, choking back tears. “That could be my son. That could be my uncles. That could be my cousins. That could be my nephews. We have a big family out here.”

Ms. Shelby then urged all young people out protesting throughout the day right now to go home before curfews to avoid getting caught up in any trouble.

“Go home,” she said. “After dark, evil starts, you did what you had to do during the day, and this is my opinion because I’m a mother and I worry about the young people out there, go home when the curfew hits.”

“God is up to something in our world,” said Reverend Ann Van Cleef of the Orient Congregational Church, who urged the people in attendance to be aware and answer the call for change.

These vigils and rallies only mark mid-week of a series of events that will continue through this weekend.

Two major rallies were held in Riverhead last Sunday, followed by a massive rally in Bridgehampton Tuesday evening.

At 10 a.m. today, there will be a peaceful protest in honor of George Floyd at Southampton’s Agawam Park “featuring local leaders and voices of hope,” according to the announcement. Attendees are asked to wear masks and bring lawn chairs.

A Black Lives Matter protest is also being organized meeting at the war memorial at Agawam Park in Southampton at 6 p.m. today. Attendees are being asked to wear dark or solid colors, or black hoodies to show solidarity, wear masks and be peaceful.

A youth protest march is being planned for Sag Harbor at noon on Friday, June 5 from noon to 3 p.m. The protest is “a march against police injustice and systemic injustice” in support of Black Lives Matter, according to the organizers, who say that “all are welcome. Please be peaceful. Wear a mask.” Participants will meet at the John Steinbeck Memorial Park at the foot of the bridge.

Youth activists are also planning a protest for Sunday, June 7 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Hook Mill in East Hampton.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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