As the sun set on Third Street in Greenport Tuesday, speakers at an interfaith vigil hosted by Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church reflected on this idea.
The more than 100 people were in attendance to observe the solemn one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“We’re here tonight because we want to work for justice. We want to work for racial healing and we want to be the change that this world needs to see,” said the Rev. Natalie Wimberly, delivering an impassioned call to action.
Rev. Wimberly said the theme of “uncommon courage” was inspired by Darnella Frazier, the teen who recorded the now viral video of George Floyd’s murder and gave powerful testimony during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer responsible for Mr. Floyd’s death.
“She displayed what uncommon courage looks like,” Rev. Wimberly said. “It requires audacity, risk, sacrifice, the use of voice and the willingness to do whatever is necessary so truth can come forth.”
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Ms. Frazier reflected on how the incident changed her life and stole a piece of her childhood. “It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America,” she wrote, adding that she has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks since the incident.
“We realize that a year ago was a far different world than where we are right now,” said the Rev. Natalie Wimberly. “Nevertheless, we still have a great deal of work to do.”
Tuesday’s vigil is the second hosted by the Greenport church. Last summer, hundreds of people filled Third Street to voice their shock, sadness and anger in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death.
This time, speakers emphasized the importance of reinforcing words and sayings like ‘Black Lives Matter’ with action.
Greenport resident Valerie Shelby, who currently co-chairs the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, asked those in attendance to make a pledge: “I am here to make a change. Count me in.”
Milton Vann, pastor of Jefferson Temple Church of God in Christ in Cutchogue, also spoke about unity. “You and I are going to have to figure out a way to come together and tear down the systems—not the individuals—but the systems of racism and the spirit of division,” he said.
Mr. Floyd, who was 46, died after Mr. Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. A jury last month convicted Mr. Chauvin of murder and he is set to be sentenced on June 25.
A former police officer and pastor at the Community Baptist Church in Southampton, Donald Butler said uncommon courage is also a theme current police officers should keep in mind. “It’s time to say something when you see something,” he said. “I am not anti police but I am anti police brutality . There are plenty of great police officers out there doing a wonderful job. It’s time for some good police officers to say something as well. The fight still goes on,” he said.
Jalisa Dixon, a student at Greenport High School, spoke about the toll the last year has had on her as a young Black woman and how it’s opened her eyes to systemic racism, racial trauma and other issues, including the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black and Latino communities.
“We need to take care of each other … so we can continue to rise up and know peace and the end of racism and inequity,” Jalisa said.
Rev. Wimberly said that since Mr. Floyd’s death, she’s waited “with bated breath to exhale,” but still feels like she cannot breathe. She cited a Newsweek article published Tuesday that lists at least 229 Black people who have died at the hands of police since Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.
Some of those names were read aloud during the vigil, among them Rayshard Brooks and Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop in April.
The police officer, who has since resigned, reportedly meant to fire a Taser instead of her handgun.
William Dickerson of the First Presbyterian Church in Southold acknowledged that that list and a lack of overwhelming reforms to the criminal justice system can be discouraging. But he said widespread peaceful protest and heightened awareness has had an impact on our culture.
“Concepts like systemic racism, police brutality and justice have worked their way into public consciousness and conversation in a way I’ve never seen before,” Mr. Dickerson said.
Jacqueline Edwards of Ridge, a retired Suffolk County Police Officer, agreed. In an interview, she said though the anniversary is sad, she’s heartened to see more people educating themselves about systemic racism and police brutality.
“As [Mr. Floyd’s] daughter said, he’s going to make a difference,” Ms. Edwards said.