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Rockville Centre residents attend protest honoring George Floyd

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People started to stream into the demonstration in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola nearly an hour before the scheduled 5:30 p.m. start time on Monday. They had come to protest the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Shouting “I can’t breathe!” and brandishing handmade signs, they arrived from towns across the county and beyond.

A coalition of Nassau advocacy groups, including some from Rockville Centre, planned the protest, “Justice for George Floyd.” Village resident Deana Davoudiasl, an organizer with Indivisible Nassau County and Young Progressives of Nassau County, helped plan the event, and introduced each speaker at the protest.

“We are emphasizing that Black Lives Matter across the country and on Long Island,” she told the Herald in an email. “We are demanding that police be held accountable for the use of excessive force.

“We are coming together as a community,” Davoudiasl continued, “to say that we need to shift funding away from an increasingly militarized police force towards education and healthcare and other social services that will truly stabilize our communities and help them flourish.”

Among the protesters was Lisa Burch, of Rockville Centre, who said she was “sickened and disturbed” by the video of Floyd’s killing, and believed it was a turning point for many people who want to see an end to racial discrimination and police brutality.

“I just feel like it’s my duty as a white woman to stand up for and in solidarity with the black community,” Burch said. “I think that each one of us has to speak up. We can’t be silent and just say that it doesn’t affect me.”

Another local attendee, Laura Burns, agreed that white people like her cannot remain silent. Burns is an activist with Moms Demand Action, an organization that works to end gun violence. She said that the group supports the Black Lives Matter movement because people of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

“We are always trying to stand up with communities most impacted,” Burns said. “What is going on right now is an explosion of grief and anger at the unfair way that black Americans have been treated by law enforcement. If they feel we need to stand up and speak out, we will.”

Barbara Powell, an executive board member of the Hempstead NAACP, described Floyd’s death as a “modern-day lynching,” noting, “People are fed up and disgusted with how things are and how they keep repeating.”

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder also attended the rally. “People are here to speak their minds and get their message across,” he said. “What happened in Minneapolis should never have happened. We have a good relationship with our communities. People are exercising their rights, and we hope to continue to do so peacefully.”

Leslie Davis, president of the Westbury NAACP, said, “We want to come together peacefully to support our communities. People all over the world are standing up against this injustice. This is a peaceful movement.”

“George Floyd’s murder was visible,” said Darleyne Mayers, of Freeport, branch secretary of the Freeport/Roosevelt NAACP. “We saw all eight minutes of it. It was reprehensible. We have to send a message, but we have to do it peacefully.”

Andrew Nelson, of Uniondale, spoke at length about what Floyd’s death meant to him. “It’s meant a lot, right, because a lot of injustices are being done,” Nelson said. “It’s unspeakable feelings. I’ve witnessed so many murders of so many different people that look like me, and it hurts on a different level.”

Among the protest sponsors were the Young Progressives of Nassau County, Indivisible of Nassau County (formerly Indivisible of Rockville Centre), the Rockville Centre-based Anti-Racism Project, the Hempstead NAACP, the Freeport/Roosevelt NAACP, the Nassau County chapter of the National Action Network, the Anti-Racism Project and Americans of Pakistani Heritage.

As of Monday morning, protests against police brutality had swept across the nation, in nearly 70 cities, including in New York City, according to The New York Times. At times, they turned violent, as was the case in the city on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights.

On Saturday in Brentwood, in Suffolk County, there was a peaceful demonstration, attended by dozens of protesters who practiced social distancing.

On Friday, County Executive Laura Curran tweeted a statement on Floyd’s death. It read, “I was horrified after watching the video of the death of George Floyd and hearing his cries. I believe charges must be brought to ensure the accountability and justice all should expect in our nation.

“This cruel act,” Curran continued, “does not represent the vast majority of police officers who, with professionalism and honor, serve and protect our communities. Nassau is committed to community policing because it works. Building trust works, and we always strive to do better.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent much of his Sunday coronavirus briefing addressing the protests that had turned violent, including in New York City. Racism is the central issue at hand, he noted.

“People are outraged, and I understand that. I’m outraged,” Cuomo said of Floyd’s death.

He added, however, that “violence never works. Burning down your own house never works. It dishonors Mr. Floyd’s death.

“The goal has to be effecting change,” Cuomo said. “Don’t tell me we can’t change … Use this moment to demand real change.”

According to the governor, people must demand that federal and state legislation be enacted to:

“Be smart, be directed,” Cuomo said. “Help your community. Don’t hurt your community.

“George Floyd,” he said, “must not have died in vain.”