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Klan never shows to protest Black Lives Matter rally in Hamptons

Willie Jenkins, center, leads the group in chanting

Willie Jenkins, center, leads the group in chanting slogans at the Black Lives Matter rally in Westhampton Beach on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The threat that the Ku Klux Klan would crash a Black Lives Matter event in Westhampton Beach emboldened the community’s response to bigotry in a well-attended rally Sunday.

A group of nearly 200 marched from Village Hall into the community’s downtown, chanting “KKK, no way!”

The group drew honks from drivers cheering them on — and stares from brunch-goers above their menus and meals — as they disrupted the quiet village that serves as a summer destination for the city set.

What was intended to be a reaction to the deaths of unarmed black men across the country took on a different tone after last week’s news reports that members of the KKK were considering a protest.

The Klan never showed.

“We spread our word. Their presence wasn’t ever felt,” said Willie Jenkins, 33, of Bridgehampton, a rally organizer who had led similar Black Lives Matter rallies in Riverhead, East Hampton and Bridgehampton earlier this summer.

The entire Westhampton Beach police force was mobilized and other agencies, including the Suffolk County Police Department, were on standby, village police Chief Trevor Gonce said. Officers had spoken to rally organizers before the event.

At one point, when an organizer asked a village police officer where the route should proceed, he responded: “You can go wherever you’d like.”

The possibility of competing rallies with racial tensions in the village of 1,700 had many on edge the past week, officials said. A bicycle shop near Village Hall, usually open on Sundays, was closed because of the planned protests, Gonce said.

Brian Tymann, a Westhampton Beach Village trustee, said “residents were shocked; we feel that Westhampton Beach is such a small, quaint village.”

The gathering included those involved in the movement and those just curious. Participants sang songs about freedom.

The crowd chanted “hands up, don’t shoot” outside Village Hall, alternating with chants of “black lives matter” and “blue lives matter.”

“We’re trying to show that everybody matters,” Jenkins said. “The KKK is not going to deter us from spreading our message; they’re not going to scare us, especially in our own town.” Jenkins cautioned those at the rally to not engage with any KKK protesters.

A group of young women captivated an audience as they played music on the lawn outside Village Hall. Kay Bontempo, 19, played guitar and sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” and The Beatles’ “Revolution” with two friends. A KKK flier was dropped off at her family’s Westhampton Beach house this week, instructing people to join the white supremacist group, she said.

“I was shocked the KKK has a presence here,” she said. “I thought it could use some music.”

Alison McNamara, 58, a retired nurse from Hampton Bays, said she was “grateful” that Black Lives Matter was hosting a rally. “I’m interested to see how people I live with, and work with, and breathe with, feel and what they think.”

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