Nearly 200 Elmont and Valley Stream residents gathered in the parking lot across the street from St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church on Monday evening to create signs and share their thoughts about police violence against minorities before marching through the streets of Elmont and Valley Stream.
It was one of hundreds of demonstrations that sprang up across the country after a police officer killed George Floyd on May 25. Floyd, 46, an African-American man, died after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes before he stopped speaking or moving. In a video of the incident, Floyd could be heard saying he could not breathe and pleading for the officer to stop.
The police, according to authorities, were responding to a report of a man attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a store.
At the protest on Monday, comprised mainly of young people, residents held up signs saying, “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “No justice, no peace,” and listing the names of black people killed by police, while passing drivers honked to show their support.
“A lot of these people, it’s their first time protesting,” said Goldie Harrison, an Elmont resident who co-organized the rally with Christine Rivera, “and not only do we need to bring awareness to the black lives who have been lost to police violence, but also give people an opportunity to protest and see what that’s like.”
She added that she and Rivera “felt it was only right to organize something like this.”
Harrison told the Herald that she wanted to increase awareness of the issue and “make some noise” in Elmont and Valley Stream.
And that’s exactly what they did. During the protest, residents stood on a crate and shared their thoughts. Speaking through a bullhorn, Alicia Muñoz, an Elmont Memorial High School alumna, said she learned about the civil rights movement in school, and now she is “still fighting for the same cause.”
“This is our chance to talk,” she told the crowd. “This is our chance to express our grievances to the world.”
Muñoz said the goal of the protests is “human equality” because people should not die “over something as frivolous as the skin they were born in.”
“This is our movement of unity,” she said. “We will not be silenced any longer.”
Floyd’s death is the latest incident of police violence against black people in the United States, protesters said. In 2014, Michael Brown Jr. was fatally shot by a white police officer in Missouri, and in New York, Eric Garner died after New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold while arresting him. A video of the incident shows Garner saying 11 times that he could not breathe while laying face down on the sidewalk.
In Floyd’s case, the officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
But protests against police brutality continued to sweep across the nation, in nearly 70 cities, according to The New York Times. Some had turned violent, as was the case in New York City last weekend.
The ones held on Long Island, however, remained peaceful. On Sunday, a dozen demonstrators gathered in Brentwood, in Suffolk County, and hundreds gathered for a demonstration outside the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola on Monday night. It was sponsored by Young Progressives of Nassau County, Indivisible of Nassau County (formerly Indivisible of Rockville Centre), 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.
“People are fed up and disgusted with how things are, and how they keep repeating,” said Barbara Powell, an executive board member of the Hempstead NAACP, describing Floyd’s death as a “modern-day lynching.”
Malik Nadeem Abid, an ambassador to the United Nations and a Valley Stream resident, added, “We need a place to breathe. The people of America need a place to breathe and live a peaceful life. No police officer or law enforcement agent has the right to take anybody’s life.”
Those in attendance emphasized that they wanted to keep the protest peaceful, and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder even took a knee to show his support for the protest. “People are here to speak their minds, and get their message across,” he said. “What happened in Minneapolis should never have happened.”
He also noted that the Nassau County Police Department has a close relationship with the communities it seeks to protect, and said he hopes people can protest peacefully.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran also tweeted that she was “horrified after watching the video of the death of George Floyd and hearing his cries,” noting that charges should be made to “ensure the accountability and justice all should expect in our nation.”
Although Chauvin was arrested, none of the three other officers had been charged as of press time.
“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.”