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#StandwithJennifer protest draws hundreds

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Between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators packed the Valley Stream train station Thursday evening before marching on Sunrise Highway and making their way to the Village Green in a show of solidarity for local resident Jennifer McLeggan, whose accusations of harassment at the hands of her neighbors have sparked a viral movement with the hash tag #standwithJennifer.

It was by far the largest Black Lives Matter demonstration to take place in Valley Stream after a photo of a sign McLeggan had placed on her doorway was shared widely on various social media platforms. On it, she outlined roughly three years — since she moved into her home — of alleged struggles with the trio of white neighbors in what she claims was racially motivated abuse.

Many at the protest remarked that McLeggan, a single Black mother who works night shifts as a nurse, represented the experience of living while Black in America. Others, mostly residents, voiced dismay that the behavior Mcleggan alleges she endured could continue unchecked in a minority-majority neighborhood such as Valley Stream.

“We’re here to stand with Jennifer,” Elmont resident Kenny Copeland, 32, said. “We heard her story.”

“She’s not the first, but we want to make sure she’s the last,” Equashia Green, 31, from Roosevelt said. “I’m a single mom myself, so when I heard what was happening, I rolled up my sleeves and came over.”

The two led much of the protest in chants and in keeping the massive crowd mostly in check. Except for a brief confrontation between protestors and a man sitting outside the train station taxi stand, the demonstration remained peaceful.

Early in the evening, while waiting for more people to gather for the demonstration, Valley Streamer Fragonard Laventure, 23, said that having been raised by a single mother himself, McLeggan’s story had resonated.

Coming to the protest, he said, was, “just the right thing to do.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do if someone did this to my mom,” he added.

“It hit home,” Paige Bowen, 36, said of McLeggan’s story. Although she is married, as a working nurse and mother of a young child, she noted the similarities in their lives and remarked it was surprising that such a dispute could go on unnoticed, she said, “Especially in a town like Valley Stream.”

“If I was her I would want this kind of support,” she said.

“I live here, this is our neighborhood,” her friend, Ebony Larmond, 36, said. “It’s shocking that someone could purchase a home, and just want to live in their home, but can’t live in their home without fear of retaliation from neighbors because of the color of their skin.”

Candice Gibson, 28, also from Valley Stream, said it was “disturbing” what McLeggan claims she endured especially in an area known for its diversity.

After the crowd had gathered, they moved west down Sunrise Highway and turned toward the Village Green. At its bandshell, a litany of faith, activist and political leaders spoke, including a representative for civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who announced he would represent McLeggan in a lawsuit against the neighbors.

Finally, McLeggan spoke, reading a speech from the same type of large yellow paper on which her now famous story had been originally written. “Sorry I like to write on big paper,” she joked.

“I can’t begin to tell you how alone I felt as a single mom, new homeowner and registered nurse while facing years of harassment while living at home,” she said. “By being here you make me feel that finally I’m not alone, and maybe I can feel safe.”

McLeggan emotionally recounted her struggles: Frequent visits from village code enforcement shortly after her moving in for violations reported, she said, by her neighbors; litter, dog and sometimes human feces appearing on her lawn; the presence of pellet guns, which police said the neighbors used to shoot targets in their back yard; and, she said, sometimes threatening confrontations.

Calls to the police went nowhere, they told her, she said, “We would have to get along.”

McLeggan described feelings of despair. The sign, she said, was a desperate last ditch message in case things took a darker turn.

But with the magnitude of support she received because of it, she said, “My sign turned out to be the best thing I ever did.”