“Enough is enough!”
Time and again, those words thundered from Rev. Natalie Wimberly, her voice from the podium atop the church steps ringing in the ears of hundreds standing on the street and sidewalks outside 95-year-old Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church in Greenport.
Rev. Wimberly and other speakers voiced a need for change, decrying racial injustice and calling for a stop to black killings at a candlelight vigil for George Floyd Wednesday evening. Video of a white Minnesota police officer’s knee pressed down on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck reportedly for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while the black man was handcuffed and lying face down and his resulting death May 25 have sparked protests and riots throughout the country.
“His cries went unheard, and with his cries being unheard, we saw a nation once again begin to be torn apart,” Rev. Wimberly said. “Yeah. I think what broke my heart was when he called for his momma.”
To applause, Rev. Wimberly told the assemblage, “We have been here too many times.”
Rev. Wimberly said she has counted 45 victims of unjust killings since 2012. “This has got to stop,” she said.
Black speakers expressed fears that relatives could be subjected to similar treatment by police.
Valerie Shelby, a grandmother who lives in Greenport, called for police reform, a ban on choke holds and equal treatment under the law.
“We all watched an outrage — the murder of George Floyd,” said Ms. Shelby, choked with emotion. “It was the result of inhumane police brutality perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy that has treated black people as enemies and less than human since 1619 when the first enslaved were brought to Jamestown. My thoughts when I [had] seen the murder, that could be my brother, that could be my son, that could be my uncles, that could be my cousins, that could be my nephews.”
Jayla Moore, 17, of Greenport said Mr. Floyd’s death “changed my life and changed the world.” She said: “I am angry. I’m hurt because that could have been any one of our brothers and sisters. I couldn’t imagine what these families are going through. I couldn’t imagine losing the ones that I care about over the color of their skin. I’m hurting for these families that have lost loved ones due to police brutality. I will forever be saddened by the events that have taken place and continue to take place in this free land that African-Americans have paid for with their lives.”
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Jahmeek Freeman, 15, of Greenport said: “It’s just hard being my color, but I love my color. I’m proud to be black.”
Levi Ullmann, 8, of Greenport was the youngest speaker. “I want more white people to care about George Floyd and I don’t want white people to be racist any more,” he said. “Hearing about it and talking about it makes me really sad and frustrated.”
With the sun shining through on a breezy, partly cloudy day, a variety of signs were held up. Among them:
“AM I NEXT? ARE YOU?”
“COLOR IS NOT A CRIME!!!”
“VIOLENCE IS A VIRUS”
The vigil, which lasted 1 hour and 39 minutes, included prayers, a recitation of names of black victims and the playing of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 song, “What’s Going On.” At least 300 people attended the vigil, according to a police officer.
“I charge you now, North Fork,” Rev. Wimberly said. “I charge you to go back to your communities, back to your towns, back to your schools, back to your workplaces, back to your house and let his light shine. Shine the light on hatred. Shine the light on discrimination. Shine the light on bigotry. Shine the light on racism. Shine the light on sexism. Shine the light on classism. Shine the light because light moves hate and darkness out of the way, so let the light shine and let it keep shining.”