Tensions ran high Saturday when about four dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered in Wantagh to protest what they called white supremacy and a double standard in policing shown in the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol earlier this week.
The rally, the first one organized by activism group LI Peaceful Protest since last October, was interrupted by about 20 counterprotesters who heckled organizer Terrel Tuosto when he gave a speech by the train station before the march.
The two groups, separated by a narrow street where Nassau County police officers stood, traded profanity-laced insults and heatedly argued back and forth.
Tuosto, a West Hempstead organizer and frequent speaker at rallies last summer and fall, said in an interview Friday that he expected counterprotesters but felt compelled to "unite people" against racism and denounce white supremacy following the deadly riot in the nation’s capital Wednesday.
"We are a peaceful group. We are not here to incite violence," he said. "But we can’t lay down to what’s been so prevalent, which has been the theory of white supremacy."
The counterprotesters, who declined to comment, followed the demonstrators as they walked down Wantagh Avenue, walking on the opposite side of the street separated by police. They chanted "Blue lives matter" to the protesters’ "Black lives matter"; and "Go home, racists" to the protesters' "Go home, terrorists." A couple of the counterprotesters held a "Trump 2020 build the wall" flag.
Before they left about 30 minutes into the march, the counterprotesters were met with approving honks, thumbs-up and also angry shouts from drivers and passengers in passing vehicles. One car pulled over and one woman got out the vehicle to yell at the group.
As the protesters continued walking down residential streets, they were received with mixed reactions. A few residents had verbal arguments with protesters while others applauded and cheered them on. One man came out of his house barefoot on a cold winter day to give the marchers a thumbs-up.
Anseer Khan of East Rockaway, who participated in a number of protests last year, marched with his two children.
"I feel disappointed that even after the terrorists attacked the Capitol, they are still so galvanized in their feelings against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests," the 36-year-old father said. "I thought after they saw the terrorist attack this week, they would have stopped and said, 'Hey, this is going too far. It’s tearing the country apart.' "
Hope Taglich, a 21-year-old college student who also joined protests last year, said she came out to show support for a rally against white supremacy.
"After the Capitol was stormed, I think it was very indicative of how grossly desperate this country is," said Taglich, of Oyster Bay. "The preferential treatment with which these terrorists were given … just baffles me but doesn’t surprise me."
Tuosto said the rally was also organized to protest the lack of community input in the draft plan that Nassau County released earlier in the week for police reform. Tuosto and more than a dozen members resigned from the Community Collaborative Task Force, a community advisory panel, on Friday.
"What really happened was when we got into these meetings … they were just lecturing and lecturing," he told the crowd Saturday. "No input from us — the community, the members that are actually supposed to be making the change."
County spokeswoman Justine DiGiglio called some members’ resignation "unfortunate." She said the county has had more than 60 meetings of community panels since June and the draft document is "just the beginning of an important process."