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Hundreds of LI protesters march against police brutality, racism

Protests against police brutality continued across Long Island. Credit: Newsday; James Carbone, Charles Eckert, John Roca, Howard Schnapp / Steve Pfost

This story was reported by John Asbury, Zachary R. Dowdy, Daysi Calavia-Robertson and Nicholas Spangler. It was written by Dowdy.

In Westbury, about 100 people marched. In Patchogue, another 100 gathered in front of a Main Street church and, in Central Islip, as many as 1,000 protesters amassed in front of the county courthouse.

The three demonstrations Wednesday afternoon were among at least six scheduled on Long Island condemning both police brutality and racism, which have rapidly taken center stage in a national debate since the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

Other venues included West Islip, Port Washington and Commack.

At the protest at the Central Islip courthouse, there was a heavy emphasis on voting and increasing voter turnout in communities of color. A voter registration table was set up on the grass in the middle of protesters’ meeting area.

“I’m begging you to use your right to vote every single time you can,” Billy Moss, president of the Islip town NAACP, said to a crowd of about 1,000 people who later marched onto Sunrise Highway and knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, matching the time a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd's neck until his body went limp.

“Black lives matter, so vote like black lives matter, Moss said. "Make sure to put your vote through, it’s too important not to.”

Other speakers including Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), whose district includes parts of Islip, East Islip, Central Islip, and Islip Terrace, echoed those sentiments.

“I want you all to know, I hear you,” he said. “I’m listening to you and I’m here to march along with you,” Cilmi said.

In Westbury, organizer Alexandra Laporte said she organized the protest with Quincy Chester for the benefit of "less diverse" communities.

“We hope to accomplish change,” she said. “We want to go places and not feel uncomfortable. We want to feel welcome when we enter a deli or a school or church or wherever we go.”

Those protesters marched from Bowling Green Elementary School to Eisenhower Park to protest Floyd's May 25 killing. Floyd’s funeral took place Tuesday in his hometown of Houston while charges are pending against the four former officers who were involved in his death.

 The encounter was captured on cellphone video and went viral, sparking protests worldwide and a slew of proposed legislation in several states and in Congress. 

“As a black man in America, all these killings of innocent black men are affecting me,” Chester said. “I’m educated, I’m smart and my skin color is not a threat. We’re not stopping. They may make new laws, but we want justice for every single person that died. Every officer that killed an innocent life, we want justice.”

William Orellana, 41, a teacher in East Meadow, said changes to laws that keep police disciplinary records secret was a good start, but that police need additional training.  He also called for more education in schools to promote racial equality in teaching and curriculum. 

“This is part of a 400-year struggle," Orellana said. "This struggle didn’t start two weeks ago with the death of George Floyd. Black and brown bodies have always been marginalized, lynched and discriminated against. We’re bringing light to the whole justice system. We’re here because we’re a family of color and I don’t want my son to be seen as a criminal. Our skin color is not a crime and I worry about his future.” 

The 100 protesters in Patchogue gathered on Main Street across from the Congregational Church of Patchogue.

Malasia Thompson, 30, a teacher who lives in Suffolk County, held a sign that said in part, “My son, husband, brothers, nephews matter.” 

Society is “more accepting of black women,” she said, but each black man in her life was “a physical target.”

She recounted the driving lesson she gave her son before she let him get behind the wheel: in the event of a traffic stop, “Don’t move. Put your hands on the dashboard and if told to exit the car, just go” without argument or question. “I should not have to teach him that,” she said.

 Nathan Hafley, 27, a software developer who lives in the village, described his frustration with the “All Lives Matter” slogan sometimes used as a rejoinder to Black Lives Matter.

“To me that’s denial,” he said. “If the house is on fire, you don’t go to every house on the block — you go to the one that’s on fire.” 

Stephanie Barnes, 29, of Bay Shore, said the protest in Central Islip was her third.

Barnes, who marched holding a sign that read: “And we are here for … Black Educators, Black Business, Black Futures,” said she didn't mind traveling to participate in protests.

“And I’ll continue to,” she said.

“I’m here for my daughter. Her name’s Dyani. She’s three years old and about to start day care. I want the world to be a better place for her to grow up in. For that to happen, we need justice.”

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