What was expected to be a small protest involving perhaps 50 people swelled to a crowd of nearly 400 last Sunday as children, adults, Jews and non-Jews, blacks, whites and Latinos marched from Andrew J. Parise Park in Cedarhurst to Lawrence and back to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and their opposition to racism, chanting “No justice, no peace!” and “Black lives matter!”
Participants gathered in Cedarhurst Park, on Cedarhurst Avenue, and headed to Central Avenue. Marching west along Central, through Cedarhurst and Lawrence, they kept to a pledge made to village officials that they would refrain from chanting, but when the march turned north at the corner at Central and Rockaway Turnpike, the chants began.
Shua Auerbach, one of the organizers, said that the purpose of the march was to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protect the rights of free speech and free assembly. “I think . . . having this march definitely opens up a lot of awareness and support in the community, and I think it’s a very positive thing to have a community come together and show solidarity when the entire country is going through something difficult,” said Auerbach, 19, a Five Towns resident who just finished his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is studying engineering.
Protests have been occurring across the country since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
Cedarhurst resident Lina Mavruk, the march’s other organizer, said that her priorities were to give a voice to people she thinks have not been heard by the majority of the country, and to stress the importance of voting.
“It’s really important that we show our people of color in the community that we care about them and that their voices are heard,” said Mavruk, 19, a student at Nassau Community College who worked at the Broadway Mall before the coronavirus pandemic hit. “And I feel that over the past couple of years it’s kind of been, like, not really focused on that anymore. It’s kind of like, oh, you know we’re here, but I think the proper word is that our voices have been suppressed.”
Mavruk said she wanted to show that protesters aren’t violent, and added, “Violent people are violent.” “We’re doing it to be heard, specifically to give a voice to the people who have been shunned and not listened to,” she said. "It’s about proving people wrong, and paying respect to people who have lost their lives because of police brutality. . . . Those policemen and policewomen who have committed acts of crime while on the job have not faced consequences, and it’s not all right.”
Amplifying the voices
Floyd’s wasn’t the only name that appeared on signs held by the marchers. Others included Breonna Taylor, an emergency room technician who was killed by police officers in her home in Louisville, Ky., on March 13.
“We are here to amplify the black voices, and stand in solidarity as the Jewish LGBTQ-plus community,” said Ashley Markowitz, 15, of Lawrence, a rising junior at Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High School, “and to make sure that people out here are pressuring their assemblywoman, Melissa Miller, and their senator, Todd Kaminsky, to [repeal] 50-a and [pass] the Eric Garner bill and the ‘Hands Up Act’ to make sure that systemic [racism] is abolished and that there are no exceptions.”
Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law prevents public disclosure of police disciplinary records. The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act is named for the man who died in a New York City police officer’s chokehold in 2014. A repeal of 50-a and the Garner Act were passed by the State Legislature. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed both bills into law on June 12. The “Hands Up Act,” proposed by a widespread petition, would punish law enforcement officers for shooting unarmed citizens.
Peninsula Public Library board member Sarah Yastrab took part in the protest, alongside board President Jeff Leb. “We’re a very diverse community,” said Yastrab, a PPL trustee for eight years. “. . . We’re made up of very different minorities, and we all work together. Jeff and I are here to represent that idea of all the different segments of this wonderful community coming together to support each other in each other’s moment of pain.”
With a phalanx of police vehicles from the Nassau County Police Department and the volunteer auxiliary police, the marchers made their way through Cedarhurst and Lawrence and back to the park. There they chanted some more, highlighting the issues they believe need to be addressed.
Asked what he would like to see change, Auerbach said, “Definitely certain reforms, bills that we could pass, to ensure that the criminal justice system doesn’t have the opportunity to disproportionally suppress minorities or other people or freedom of speech.”
Mavruk emphasized the need to repeal Section 50-a, and for young people to vote. “That’s all it comes down to — we have to vote, have to vote, have to vote,” she said. “A lot of young people are unaware how to register to vote, what parties to vote for and just in general, unaware how to find information. Nothing is going to change if we don’t vote.”