It was after a restless night of sleep that Hope Taglich made the decision that she would lead a rally in her hometown of Oyster Bay. It would be a fitting response to the killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, she reasoned. He had died five days earlier on Memorial Day, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, prompting many protests throughout the country from people who are demanding for an end to racism and police brutality. Taglich had attended a protest in Trenton, N.J. days before.
“I was overcome with a desire to plan my own protest,” said Taglich, 21. “I wanted to take the anger and find a way to make it constructive. I wanted to open up a difficult conversation with the residents in Oyster Bay.”
She held her first Anti-Racist Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest on June 6. There were more than 70 people that attended and might have drawn even more if it hadn’t rained.
“I was surprised by how many people came,” Taglich said. “The speeches were heartening. But it was upsetting to hear peoples’ experiences. One teacher said black students at Oyster Bay High School experienced having racial slurs directed at them.”
Ravin Chetram, of Indian descent, who participated at the rally by sharing his own story, is the vice president of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce. He said he didn’t know about the protest until his son, Jaiya, 15, told him about it. Chetram ended up speaking the most that day, he said, to the group that gathered in front of Town of Oyster Bay’s Town Hall.
He has had situations with police where he believes his race was the driving force in how the incident was handled, he said. Chetram had been dragged out of his car and thrown to the ground on the Meadowbrook Parkway by a policeman after Chetram asked why he had been stopped. He said his children were crying inside the car. But even so, Chetram said, it is important to improve the relationship between police and residents.
“I spoke that day about defunding the police but the term doesn’t sound right,” said Chetram, adding that defunding doesn’t mean to shut down police stations. “We need for the good police to stand up against the bad ones. Defunding means there is a need to reconstruct how their money is spent. It’s about taking responsibility, like dealing with mental issues.”
During the second protest organized by Taglich on June 12, Chetram was also one of the main speakers. He urged parents to speak to their children about racism. He warned that if people do not say they are against racism it is the same as saying they are for it.
Jaiya, looking out at the crowd said he saw police, his teachers, the school nurse and white friends. “They understand they are privileged,” he said. “In my school I fight for equality.”
But he also said he was frightened and that his white classmates would never understand why he is afraid and the struggles that people of color experience. “To my white peers who are here, I see you and thank you,” he said. “After slavery there was reform, after civil rightsthere was reform and after this there will be reform and it will be because of all of us. History is happening now.”
One blonde woman from Puerto Rico said she had had to defend herself her entire life. No one knows that she is Puerto Rican, she said, and have often said disparaging remarks in her presence. “Now I’m grownup and I’m not offended anymore,” she said. “I tell them to shut up. The comments aren’t funny.”
Chetram said that some people misunderstand the meaning of Black Lives Matter. People are saying that black lives exist, he explained. “If people say all lives matter they aren’t hearing what we are saying,” he said. “It’s like comparing a holocaust survivor and saying someone that survived cancer is the same. In doing this you negate the holocaust survivor’s story.”
He also wondered why people against Black Lives Matter protests go to them wearing an American Flag. Why is he considered to be unpatriotic because he is asking that police do their jobs, Chetram asked.
The June 12 protest lasted for over an hour. People of different races listened attentively, as did the children sitting nearby.
Taglich said she believes that her rallies were successful. “It’s important for people to listen,” she said. “My event was a platform for people to speak and one for people to listen.”