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Hundreds gather in Peconic to protest police brutality

Hundreds gathered at Jean Cochran Park in Peconic Wednesday for a peaceful demonstration against police brutality.

Holding up a sign that said ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Connise Black Williams addressed the crowd, providing an insight into her experience as a black woman raising a family on the North Fork.

“We were the only blacks on the block,” she said, in both Mattituck and Cutchogue. “I had to constantly tell my children we can’t do this or do that because we don’t want the neighbors to think we’re bad. My children are good children, as you can see,” she said, motioning to her son, Kenny, who organized Wednesday’s rally.

Still, she fears for the lives of her sons and family members. “Let’s keep it real,” Ms. Williams said. “There’s privilege, and there’s those that are afraid every day.”

Protests have erupted in cities across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

All four cops involved in the incident have been fired and officials announced Wednesday that all are now facing felony charges related to the killing.

“We are here today for a specific reason and it starts with black lives mattering,” Kenny Black, 27, said. “That is not to take any credit away from any other life, whether they’re white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever. We all matter but we can’t all matter until black lives matter.”

Before a predominantly white crowd, each speaker challenged attendees to take action. “It can’t just come from our community,” said Michelle McMoore of Greenport. “It has to come from every community. It’s not just our problem, it’s everybody’s problem.”

Aterahme Lawrence of Shelter Island said that while the demonstrations are not anti-police, members of law enforcement must also speak up about the unnecessary violence.

“We are standing for people of all colors ,” she said. “But you need to stand with us.”

Samantha Hokanson, a Southold native, called on the North Fork community to come together and confront racism head on. “In 2020, little has truly changed for black people and people of color,” she said. “We still allow these groups of people to be marginalized, murdered and denied their humanity. It is shameful and it is dangerous.”

Ms. Hokanson said she’d like to propose a grassroots initiative to re-educate the white community on the North Fork on how to be true advocates and allies. She asked anyone interested in getting involved to contact her at [email protected].

Following the rally, the group marched down Peconic Lane toward Southold Police Headquarters chanting “No justice, no peace! No racist police!”

Silence overtook the crowd as they zeroed in on police headquarters, taking a knee in front of the building in solidarity with protestors around the world. Some chanted “Take a knee” to Southold and New York State police officers, including Chief Martin Flatley who stood in a line outside of the precinct.

Police accountability took on a new meaning for Wednesday’s demonstration in Southold in the wake of a retirement party held last weekend for a retiring police sergeant that broke pandemic guidelines.

“I know there’s a lot of angry feelings toward that retirement party,” Mr. Black said. “That’s in the past. The only thing we can do now is ask for accountability.”

The silence he said, is deafening.

Mr. Black said he was truly overwhelmed at how many attended the protest. “I didn’t think I’d be able to reach this many people,” he said. “This isn’t a white versus black issue. This is everyone against racism. And we need everyone.”