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100 Riverhead protesters decry police shootings of black men

About 100 demonstrators chanting "no justice, no peace"

About 100 demonstrators chanting "no justice, no peace" and holding signs reading "Black Lives Matter" took to the street in downtown Riverhead on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

About 100 demonstrators chanting “No justice, no peace!” and carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs took to the street Sunday afternoon in Riverhead to protest police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

The group, a diverse mix of ethnicities and ages, gathered on either side of downtown Peconic Avenue about 12:30 p.m. to avoid disrupting businesses, organizer Vanessa Vascez-Corleone said. Passing motorists honked their horns and raised their fists in a show of support.

“This is all done in peace,” said Vascez-Corleone, 28, of Riverhead. “This isn’t a black-white issue.”

Vascez-Corleone, who organized a Riverhead protest in 2012 after George Zimmerman shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, said she wanted to get everyone out to express their opinions.

A short distance away, about 10 Southampton Town police officers stood along Peconic Avenue in their jurisdiction monitoring the protest. About 1 p.m., protesters moved into Southampton.

“They [demonstrators] asked us to come and stand with them,” said Southampton Town Police Sgt. Lewis Scott. “We can’t join, but we’ll try to help them out with whatever they need.”

Riverhead resident Kimberly Wilder said she felt compelled to attend a protest in her own community. “It’s so important to spread love around and make sure everyone feels accepted,” Wilder said.

Protesters also came from other parts of Long Island and beyond to lend their support.

“We’re out here for a purpose,” said Adrienne Jerry, 52, of Mastic. “I want to be a part of getting justice where justice is due and justice is needed.”

At Riverhead Town Hall, protesters gathered and chanted for about 15 minutes.

Meqai Herder of Philadelphia called for unity. Herder, 21, noted he has been involved in other Black Lives Matter protests, but said the Riverhead demonstration was “a bit more empowering” than the large-scale ones.

Several people from the Shinnecock Reservation came to take a stand against the senseless loss of life, said trustee and tribal leader Nichol Dennis-Banks.

“We’re not going to tolerate it anymore,” Dennis-Banks, 42, said. “I’m here to speak out for those who can’t speak anymore.”

Kristin Goree, 31, who also lives on the reservation, said, “All lives matter, but at the moment, the only people that don’t matter are black lives.”

Organizer Vascez-Corleone said Riverhead Town officials had reached out to her and asked her to postpone the demonstration. But after polling potential protesters and friends on Facebook, Vascez-Corleone said she decided not to respond and proceeded with the demonstration.

“I didn’t want to postpone,” she said. “It’s a tactic to try to get people to forget. In two weeks it’ll be a dead issue.”

Riverhead officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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