This story was reported by Laura Albanese, John Asbury, Rachelle Blidner, Alfonso A. Castillo, Zachary R. Dowdy, Scott Eidler, Tom Ferrara, Deborah S. Morris, Antonio Planas, Ted Phillips, and David Schwartz. It was written by Dowdy.
Long Islanders came out in force for a fifth day in a row to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last week, closing major highways while demanding change.
The events were largely peaceful, but tensions flared in an afternoon protest in Merrick, where thousands marched from the LIRR train station and intermittently shut down Sunrise Highway and stretches of Merrick Road in Merrick and Bellmore.
Around 8 p.m., protesters forced the closure of the Southern State Parkway at Exit 23 as they marched onto and then off the parkway. The Southern State reopened just after 10 p.m., though traffic was at a crawl.
The Merrick crowd swelled to more than 4,000 around 7 p.m. when a second wave of protesters joined the first group, according to Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. "So far, it's been very peaceful," he said. "We've got to see how the second group does now."
Shortly after 10 p.m., Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a spokesman with Nassau County police, said there had been no arrests and no property damages.
Earlier, protesters had surrounded an SUV that was honking and proceeding into the march, banging on the hood before moving on.
Those instances, though, were the outliers in a spirited but mostly peaceful demonstration that included a kneel-down at the intersection of Merrick Road and Sunrise Highway and another at Merrick Road and Newbridge Road in Bellmore.
Organizer Arnold Cáceres, 29, of Freeport, said he was pleased with the event despite the tension.
"I think it's amazing," he said. "On the news, they might show that people don't like [us] but over here, they're respecting us, they're showing love, they're honking horns, they're agreeing with us and I think it's a very powerful thing going on right now."
Cacéres said he was most heartened by instances of bystander support: People honking in support, families waving from their stoops or their lawns.
By 8 p.m. the crowds in Merrick had largely dispersed, although some continued their chants of “No justice, no peace!” as they walked along the quieted streets — some ducking into shops for refreshments.
For the second day this week, about 1,000 protesters marched through Long Beach, joined by elected and civic leaders to chant and kneel in a protest against racism and police brutality.
Interim Long Beach Police Commissioner Ed Ryan knelt in the intersection of Park Avenue at Long Beach Boulevard with protesters and officials for a moment of silence for Floyd, the unarmed black Minneapolis man who died of asphyxiation last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Some shouted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and "No justice, no peace, no racist police" while marching from the Long Beach MLK Center to Long Beach City Hall about a half a mile away.
“I believe what we are doing is going to make the changes we are looking for,” MLK Chairman James Hodge said. “We are here to change policy. We are tired of coming here time after time, killing after killing. We will hold these elected officials accountable. We’re still fighting from the day we were brought to this country, and we will not stop.”
Former Long Beach council President Anissa Moore, the first African American elected in the city, said: “We are tired of dying. We need to dismantle the system that makes my skin color a crime and the other skin color a privilege. It will take all of us to change this wicked system and dream of a better city of Long Beach. We’re tired of dying. We need justice now.”
About 50 people stood on Front Street in Uniondale protesting racism and police brutality following a pair of protests in Uniondale starting at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Sophia Powell, 28, of Uniondale, was among 50 people who protested on Front Street after marching there from the coliseum. She said recorded instances of police brutality were giving more exposure to violence and the need for police reforms, along with the support needed for black school systems and black communities.
Earlier, in Valley Stream more than 150 protesters rallied loudly but peacefully against police violence and the killing of Floyd.
Holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and the names of those killed by law enforcement, they marched from Arthur Hendrickson Park to Village Green Park chanting “No justice, no peace!”
“I’m not here to vandalize,” said Joseph Herns, 21, of Valley Stream, who was laid off from his retail job amid the coronavirus crisis. “It’s a peaceful protest, to have my voice heard.”
He held a sign that said, “I used to want to be a cop but y’all keep murdering my brothers and sisters.”
At the Village Green, the crowd took a knee in silence for nine minutes, the approximate amount of time that authorities said the Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
The rally was organized by a 16-year-old Valley Stream resident, Edan JeanLouis, who told the crowd he was outraged at the Floyd killing but his mother wouldn’t let him attend protests in Manhattan.
There were at least seven planned events Thursday in Nassau, Ryder said. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said there had been about 20 in the county so far as she praised the measured tenor of the events.
Organizers allowed the events to proceed a day after charges against ex-cop Chauvin were upgraded to second-degree murder and aiding and abetting murder charges were filed against three other former officers who helped subdue Floyd on a Minneapolis street on Memorial Day last week.
“I didn’t see anyone else organize in Valley Stream, so I did,” JeanLouis said, talking about how he has faced racial discrimination in retail stores.
Carina Gleason, 19, of Nassau County, said it was not only the black people killed by law enforcement but the justice system that protected those who shot black men like Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who authorities say died at the hands of the two white men as he ran through a Georgia neighborhood in February.
“It’s a whole system that needs to be taken down and fixed,” she said.
The crowd was a racially and ethnically diverse group of mostly young people. One sign in the crowd said “The bricks of Long Island suburbia were laid upon the foundation of systemic racism.”
Curran said at her daily briefing on coronavirus Thursday that "about 20 peaceful protests have happened, no arrests, no intentional property damage. It's a balance and we're achieving that balance."
She said she wanted to "reinforce the message of calm and reassurance. I know a lot of people are anxious right now. I think it's very important that we get out the message of calm and reassurance."
In Suffolk, during a public safety committee hearing before county legislators, Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who is black, spoke of his own experience with police as someone who has always been law-abiding and has relationships with top police officials.
Spencer is the legislature’s majority leader, as well as a doctor and minister.
“As a 52-year-old man, I have been pulled over at least 50 times over the course of my life," he said. "I’ve been called boy. I’ve had guns drawn. I’ve had a gun held up to me from law enforcement. When I get pulled over, even in Suffolk County, until the point where that officer recognizes who I am, I am terrified. I am terrified.”
He said he was pulled over with his son in the car, and even though the officer was “absolutely professional, I’m faced with that” fear, he said.
Police Chief Stu Cameron responded, “It breaks my heart to hear you relay those encounters …. You shouldn’t be treated that way.”
In Huntington, community leader Kevin Thorbourne, who organized a protest on Monday that was the subject of a racist Facebook rant by a local restaurateur that drew widespread anger, tried to discourage the march because he said the three previous demonstrations had secured meetings with the town and county to address some of the issues for which they were marching. He was also concerned others from outside of the community might instigate violence to discredit the message.
Democracy couldn’t be stopped; they marched anyway shouting “black lives matter” as they headed toward downtown.
About 200 voices chanted and shouted for justice as demonstrators marched passed single- family homes on Great Neck Road from North Amityville to Copiague on Thursday. Ronald J. Walker, 21, a student at Suffolk Community College and one of the organizers of the march, said they wanted to fight racial injustice “doing it the right way, peacefully, using our words, not violence."