Approximately 500 local residents came together at the Freeport Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station to walk in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to demand justice for George Floyd on Sunday, June 7.
The protest shut down various parts of the Sunrise Highway, a major road that runs along the south shore of Long Island. As protesters crossed the highway, they chanted phrases like “No justice, no peace, f*** the racist ass police,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I’m black and I’m proud,” while making a detour to the Freeport Nautical Mile.
“We’re not saying all lives matter, we’re saying black lives matter right now because we see the injustices that go against our brothers,” Victor Ngo, a Freeport resident, said. “Right now I just feel the pain of America and hope that we can progress through this.”
Support for the protest was seen throughout the community, as people screamed and honked their cars while passing by. When protesters passed by houses, many residents came out of their homes and raised their fists in the air to show solidarity.
Along the mile, protesters stopped at Bracco’s Clam Bar, a local Freeport restaurant. After Jon Bracco, co-owner of Bracco’s, posted comments on social media that criticize the Black Lives Matter protests, over 29,000 people signed a petition to boycott the restaurant and three other Freeport businesses that had also made critical comments about protests.
Floyd was a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis who was killed on May 25 when a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. One officer pinned him down, while two other officers further restrained Floyd and a fourth prevented onlookers from intervening. Following his death, demonstrations and protests began to occur both nationally and internationally.
After protesters chanted “Cancel Bracco’s,” they took a knee and had a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck.
When local residents marched into Merrick on June 2, a video went viral of some Merrick community members blocking protesters walking on Merrick Road and yelling phrases like “Go West” and “Get them the hell out of here.”
“Here on Long Island, we’ve been fighting for a long time for victims of police brutality,” Rachel Hu, a Valley Stream resident, said. “People are out protesting and they’re saying that we are not going to be governable.”
Michael Desir, who grew up in Freeport, said that he has seen racism in Freeport all of his life and how it’s “super structural” and “ingrained” into the towns throughout the area. Long Island continues to be one of the most racially segregated regions in the country and was ranked the 10th most segregated metropolitan region, according to a 2015 report by ERASE Racism.
“People always talk about how the South is racist and how it doesn’t happen up here, but it’s completely a lie,” Desir said. “Town by town and district by district you can see racial breakdowns change just over streets.”
Freeport’s protest was one of over 10 local protests scheduled on Long Island for the day.
“It’s an epidemic across the country and people are not going back,” Hu said. “This is a movement, not a moment.”
Protestors chanted Floyd’s name, along with other victims of police brutality like Breonna Taylor, as they walked past the Merrick LIRR station on their way back to Freeport.
Alia Nunge, a Freeport resident, has been to about seven protests since the death of Floyd.
“I came out again today because our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers are getting killed,” she said. “It’s not fair and the whole system is just f***ed up.”
Four hours after its departure, the march ended around 6:30 p.m. at the Freeport LIRR Station where it started and local residents dispersed.
“Whether it’s Minneapolis, or New York City, or Los Angeles, or Freeport, racism happens everywhere,” Desir said. “We’re tired of living like this and things have to change. We have to play our part.”