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LI, NYC protesters keep up momentum after George Floyd death

Passionate and peaceful protests continued across Long Island, most demonstrators wore masks.  Credit: Newsday / Tom Ferrara; Howard Schnapp; John Roca; James Carbone

This story was reported by Daysi Calavia-Robertson, Vera Chinese, Jesse Coburn, Nicole Fuller, Michael O'Keeffe and David M. Schwartz. It was written by O'Keeffe.

Peaceful rallies against racism and police brutality resumed across Long Island Sunday, almost three weeks after George Floyd’s death in police custody sparked global protests, and thousands marched in Brooklyn as the black transgender community added its voice to the national torrent of anger.

Demonstrations went on in Freeport, Hempstead, Greenlawn, Garden City, Farmingdale, Deer Park, Shelter Island and other communities; some quiet and small, others large and confrontational. But they stayed nonviolent and in many places were made up of diverse groups.

In Brooklyn, thousands clad in white packed the Brooklyn Museum courtyard and spilled onto adjacent Eastern Parkway to express support for the black transgender community. Organizers said an estimated 15,000 people — many holding signs that said "Black Trans Lives Matter" and "Stop Killing Black Trans Women" — participated in the event. 

"I'm always the most grateful to see black trans people here because they're my family and my community," organizer Ianne Fields Stewart said of the turnout. "Seeing other people is always a benefit. It's a good thing to think that people are beginning to care about something they should have been caring about for a long time." 

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, meanwhile, signed legislation Sunday that affirms the right of an individual to record law enforcement activity and to maintain custody of that recording and any instruments used to make the recording.

Earlier in the week, Cuomo had said local governments will lose most state funding if they don’t redesign their police forces by April 1. And he signed into law a sweeping 10-bill package of reforms that include banning chokeholds, reducing restrictions on the release of police disciplinary records and requiring state troopers to wear body cameras.

Sunday, in Babylon Village, more than 150 protesters, some clutching white balloons with the names of black men and women killed by police, chanted “Black Lives Matter” as they marched through the streets, calling for the removal of a statue of Robert Moses, the powerful master builder who reshaped New York’s highways, bridges and parks. 

Activists and academics have long said Moses, whose name graces a parkway and a state beach on Long Island, supported policies that promoted racial segregation. 

“I’m tired of feeling like I don’t belong here,” said fifth-generation Babylon resident Emerald Vickers, who organized the protest with her sister MacKenzie Vickers. 

Some Babylon residents poured out of their homes to applaud the marchers. One woman made an obscene gesture as she filmed them. 

The protesters paused in silence in Babylon’s Argyle Park for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck before he died. The crowd swelled to hundreds after scores of protesters participating in a separate march arrived at the park. 

Hundreds of protesters crisscrossed central Nassau County, meanwhile, in multiple protests against police brutality. 

More than 100 people chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as they marched from Hempstead through Garden City to the Nassau County Legislature building in Mineola.

The marchers noted the stark disparities between predominantly white and affluent Garden City and neighboring Hempstead, largely black and Latino.

“Nassau County is still one of the most segregated places in America,” said Travis Nelson, one of the event’s organizers. “We still have a lot more work to do.”

Other protesters called for diverting money Nassau County spends on police to other priorities. 

“Why is it that we spend more money on the police than housing, health care, education and social services?” asked Nikhil Goyal of the group Young Long Island for Justice.

The diverse group that participated in the Long Island Families & Children’s March for Black Lives, which drew hundred of kids and their caregivers, marched to the Nassau County Court on Old Country Road in Mineola.

“I feel like it is history in the making,” said Venee Cunningham of Rockville Centre, who attended with her son and daughter.

A third demonstration took place on the steps of Hempstead Town Hall. 

About three dozen protesters in Freeport, meanwhile, expressed outrage over comments by two Nautical Mile restaurant owners on social media attacking protesters.

The group stopped on the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Guy Lombardo Avenue, where protesters were asked to hold their fists in the air for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while organizer Tammy Verdè recited the words George Floyd said while he was on the ground with Officer Derek Chauvin's knee on his neck.

“Mama,” protest organizer Verdè of Amityville said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Mama … he called out for his Mama …”

The marchers stopped at Rachel's Waterside Grill, whose owner Ivan Sayles has been under fire for calling on cops in a recent Facebook post to beat protesters who attack police. Sayles said he stands by his post. 

“Leave Rachel’s,” the protesters shouted as they handed out printouts of Sayles’ post. “Read for yourselves. The owner is racist. He doesn’t care about minorities.” 

The crowd cheered when a group of minority diners got up from their tables and walked out. A group of white patrons shook their heads. One woman yelled expletives at the protesters.

The protest also stopped at Bracco’s, whose owner Jon Bracco was criticized on social media for reposting a tweet by President Donald Trump that refers to protesters as “thugs.” Bracco later posted a lengthy apology. 

A group of black musicians playing at Bracco’s left the stage at the urging of protesters. 

“They don’t love you, they don’t love us, “ the protesters said. "Walk out! What’s worth more? This gig or your pride?” 

The musicians put their instruments down, saying “We’re gonna take a break,” and then walked off the stage, approached the crowd and shook hands with some of the protesters. 

On Shelter Island, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators briefly shut down the main thoroughfare, Route 114, as they lay in the road to protest Floyd’s killing and police brutality.

The crowd was overwhelmingly white, but marchers said the fact the island is less than 1% black was all the more reason to be there.

“We feel strongly that given the way the world has turned, that Shelter Island in particular needs to take notice,” said part-time island resident Susan Petrie-Baderrscher, who is white and held a sign that read “I’m not black, but I stand with you.”

Willie Jenkins of Bridgehampton, who is black and has attended several rallies in the past few week, was among the speakers at the Shelter Island event. Jenkins called on white protesters to ask their black friends and neighbors about their experiences as one way to heal the divide. 

“Never in a million years would I have thought you guys [Shelter Islanders] would do this,” he said to the crowd. “If I didn’t consider myself such a tough guy, I’d cry right now.”

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