Hundreds of Long Islanders rallied on the side of Nesconset Highway on June 7 in front of the Lowe’s shopping center in Stony Brook to peacefully protest — and remember those who have died from — police brutality.
The protest began at 1 p.m. on the sidewalk along the highway outside Lowe’s, with both American flags and Black Lives Matter flags flown in solidarity, along with various signs that read phrases such as “silence = death,” “enough is enough” and “color is not a crime.” The protesters shouted phrases like “no justice, no peace,” “don’t shoot,” “silence is violence,” “Black Lives Matter” and responded to the chant “say their name” with the names of those who have lost their lives to police brutality.
One of the many victims of police brutality remembered at the protest was George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis who was killed on May 25 after a police officer forcefully pinned down Floyd’s neck with his knee during an arrest. A video of the altercation went viral, prompting hundreds of protests nationally and internationally.
Protesters cheered as drivers and passengers on the highway honked their horns, raised their fists and even held up signs in their cars. Refreshments and snacks were set up under a tent for the protesters. There was no provocation towards or from Suffolk County police officers assigned to the protest.
The protest was organized by local resident Kenna Atkinson, and co-organized by local activists Jay Guercio and Sharon Nicole. Nicole and Guercio both helped organize the Brentwood protest on May 31.
“I know that I come from a place of privilege as a white-passing Latino, but I know that it’s important for me to stand up for my black friends — my black sisters and brothers — because we are all in this fight together,” Nicole said.
The crowd was also given cards with a QR code, which when scanned gave them access to a Google doc with links to resources and actions that people can take to help stop police brutality. One recommended action to end police brutality is repealing Privacy Law 50-A — which keeps the personnel records and incidents of misconduct of police officers unavailable to the public.
Around 2:15 p.m., protesters gathered on the lawn in front of the office supply store Staples in Stony Brook, where some members of the protest addressed the crowd. One young woman sang a cover of “Stand Up,” an original song from the film “Harriet.”
“I grew up when some of this stuff started,” Dylan, an older white man said to the crowd, describing how he witnessed events from the civil rights movement such as the Little Rock Nine and Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln memorial. “I am not supposed to be here at 64 years old. I was supposed to see the end of this when I was 24! I fought for this then and by god I will continue to fight for it today!”
At the end of the speeches, the protesters kneeled and laid on the ground, shouting phrases like “I can’t breathe” and chanting the names of victims for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time the officer who killed Floyd held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Protesters then started marching west on Nesconset Highway, before circling back and ending at Lowe’s, where the rally started. The protest ended around 4 p.m.
Local politicians, including New York Congressional District 1 Democratic candidate Perry Gershon and New York State Senate District 1 Democratic candidate Skyler Johnson, lent their support to the protest.
“Enough is enough,” Gershon said. “People are saying it’s time for change. Black lives matter. We need racial justice in America and now is the time. It’s time we make a statement that change is now. And it starts with us.”
“These protests are extremely important and they are a foundation for a movement for change,” Johnson said. “The people here all know about the horrible incidents that we’ve seen nationwide — of police brutality, of racism, of institutional injustice — and Suffolk right now is saying that they won’t stand for it anymore.”
Holly Fils-aime, a Democrat and local advocate, was part of a group that set up a voter registration table at the protest. She and her colleagues walked around the protest handing out forms and urging the protesters to bring about change through voting in November.
“We think this is the most important national election in our lifetime,” Fils-aime said. “And we feel that if we all vote, and the democrats all vote, we have enough votes to overpower [President] Trump.”
Although everyone at the protest was wearing a mask, protesters were urged to get tested for COVID-19 in a week at Stony Brook University Hospital’s testing center.
“We hear these stories with our parents and our grandparents. And me being a person of color I just want this to be the last generation to deal with this,” protester Mike Roland said. “It stops here.”