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V.S. residents discuss the BLM movement

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In the wake of the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, the United States and the world abroad has remained divided in its perception of racism and police brutality.

In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement has emerged as the leading voice protesting police violence against African American and Black people, as well as advocating for other systemic societal changes. Coming in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal related to his 2012 shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter exists as both a formal activist organization, and an informal slogan addressing racial inequality in America.

Continuing recent and ongoing discussions of race in America, and responding to a Herald social media inquiry, residents in Valley Stream discussed their views on the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the slogan “all lives matter,” which some have characterized as a reactionary counter-narrative.

Valley Stream resident, Anseer Khan, 35, who is black, said that he in the past had supported aspects of the phrase all lives matter. However, after Floyd’s death, he said his support for the Black Lives Matter movement grew.

“Supporting black lives does not mean that other lives are not important and I view all lives matter as a hypocritical hate group who are trying to marginalize the targeted community,” he said. “The people that support all lives matter do not actually support all lives and rights of all citizens. Systemic racism is why all lives matter cannot matter until black lives have equality.” 

Valley Stream resident Eric Millings, 32, who is mixed race, but identifies as black, said that he was originally apprehensive in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and worried that it might alienate non-black people. Over time, he said he has started to believe that the movement has become crucial to giving black people like himself a voice. 

Millings recalled his mother, who is white, recounting to him during his childhood the racial slurs others had used to refer to him when he was not around, believing that she wouldn’t mind. He also recalled her warnings that some people might treat him differently because of the color of his skin. Those discussions with his mother, he said, illustrated to him some of the ways racism exists in society, and that he now believes the Black Lives Matter movement is an essential tool to highlight that reality.   

“All lives matter isn’t a real thing. It is just a way to pacify Black Lives Matter chants,” Millings said. “I think the white people that feel excluded by Black Lives Matter still have the option to identify with their chosen ideals, but still be on the right side of history.”

Village trustee Vincent Grasso, 47, who is white, he said he believes that Black Lives Matter is a statement or movement that should exist without retort, and should be wholly supported.

“Black Lives Matter is an incontrovertibly true statement and a fundamentally moral one. Racism has existed since the beginning of time. It exists today and it will exist tomorrow,” he said. “There is something primal, and primitive within our human nature that causes us to fear ‘the other.’”   

Grasso said he believes that in cases where people feel they have not done enough to fight racism, they can put themselves on a path to defensiveness.

“All lives matter has emerged as the shield deployed to protect from that shame,” he said.  “Neither the response, or the shame, is necessary to commit to love and support our fellow human beings.” 

While many Valley Stream residents said they have come to support the Black Lives Matter movement, others said they believed it could be exclusionary.

“All lives matter,” said Valley Stream resident, Joseph Gavin. “Not just one group, but all.”

All lives matter; white, black and blue,” agreed, Eileen Farnan Sloane.

“All lives matter,” said Faziella Karim Lynn and later Jim Zabatta agreed.  

For Valley Stream resident Ronnie Traina, who is white, he said that he supports the slogan all lives matter because he said to him it means supporting all races and religions.  

“I don’t like it when someone tells me that I can’t say all lives matter like my freedom of speech is up for debate,” he said. “I don’t support any separate race as better than another. Everyone is equal.”

Traina said that while he believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is spreading awareness about injustices stemming from bad policing and police training, he doesn’t believe that George Floyd’s death was the result of systemic racism.

“What happened to Floyd is crazy . . . It sounds premeditated not [caused by] systematic racism,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is at a disadvantage and everyone has rights under our Constitution, and free speech to talk about anything.” 

As someone who supports the slogan all lives matter, Traina said he doesn’t think that makes him hateful towards the Black community. As a Valley Stream resident since 1955, he said he has witnessed the community become more diverse over time. 

“If I had any problems with our neighbors and neighborhood it would’ve been well known. My kids love it here, as do I,” he said. “I’ve never seen race or religion as a reason to not be kind to anyone.”

While most residents either supported or refuted the ideals behind Black Lives Matter, long time resident, Garrett Shaw, 37, said he is neither for or against movement or the slogan.  

“Squabbling over whose skin tone is best is beyond petty. As a non-person-of-color, I do feel mildly disconnected from the Black Lives Matter movement because a lot of the ideas, thoughts and stories that come out of Black Lives Matter are things I have never directly experienced,” he said. “It’s difficult to put oneself into another’s shoes when the foundations are so foreign to one another.”