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Franklin Square protest becomes contentious

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A Black Lives Matter protest in Franklin Square became contentious on Aug. 5, when police officers threatened to arrest demonstrators — and even this reporter — for “obstructing pedestrian traffic” and stepping into the street.

Nearly two dozen protestors marched down Hempstead Turnpike that evening, flanked by police officers. When they reached Pacific Avenue, Ron George, a Franklin Square native who organized the demonstration with the Long Island Peaceful Protest group, stopped the group to talk to residents about his experience growing up there. He recounted how he was once the only Black student at the John Street School, and how, when he was younger, residents would say that he was only skilled at basketball because of the color of his skin.

Franklin Square is 70 percent white, and only 2.3 percent Black or African American, according to the United States Census Bureau, while neighboring Elmont is 20 percent white and 47.8 percent Black.

“It seems like they’re trying to have us separated,” George told the residents sitting outside their homes that night, adding that he would like to see more Black students attend the John Street School.

“We’re not here for any hassle,” he said, “we’re here for love.”

But when another resident started heckling the group, George took it upon himself to confront him. That’s when one of the police trucks started playing an automated message telling the protestors that they were “obstructing pedestrian traffic” while standing on the sidewalk, and ordered them to “immediately move.” If they did so voluntarily, the message said, “no charges will be brought against you,” but if the protestors did not comply, “you will be arrested immediately.”

To underscore this point, the officer who played the message gave George three seconds to keep walking.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” George said in retrospect. “All I wanted to do was open dialogue.”

That was not the only time the police threatened to arrest people that night, however. An officer told a protestor a short time later that he “could not do that” when he allegedly put up a middle finger at passersby, and when I tried to get a picture of the protestors standing next to me on Hempstead Turnpike, I put my left foot in the street to get a better angle, but one of the officers came up to me and told me that if I stepped off the sidewalk “one more time,” I would be arrested. I was wearing my press badge at the time, holding my camera in my hands, with my reporter’s notebook tucked under my arm.

The Nassau County Police Department did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

“This is just another example of the Nassau County police trying to stop us,” Mike Motamedian, another organizer, said of the threats, vowing to keep protesting. “It’s very important to keep coming outside, keep educating yourselves and keep fighting,” he told the crowd.

Black Lives Matter protests have taken place across the country since a police officer in Minnesota knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, killing him in May. But, George said, “The only problem we have in this world is people who don’t know how to speak” about these injustices, adding that he organized the protest in Franklin Square to “change the hearts of the people.”

It attracted residents from across Long Island. Yasmille Edouard, of West Hempstead, for example, said she decided to attend the protest that night because she did not have Internet following Tropical Storm Isaias, and figured “why not do something good” and support Black Lives Matter, and Ebony Thompson, of Baldwin, said “there’s a lot of work that can be done on Long Island.”

Franklin Square resident Jack Cronin added that “This is where we’re going to see the most change,” and Jesse Capozzi said, “I think everyone who organizes these protests is doing good work.”