Anti-police brutality protesters have been peacefully picketing and marching on Long Island, but authorities are closely monitoring the rallies to ensure rioters don’t hijack the demonstrations and start looting.
The thousands of people rallying in Nassau and Suffolk counties are local supporters of nationwide protests sparked by a shocking video of a white Minneapolis police officer allegedly killing an unarmed black man by placing a knee on his neck and ignoring the victim’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
“Although demonstrations on Long Island have remained peaceful, we continue to see concerning rumors circulate online threatening violence or looting in Nassau County,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Tuesday in a joint statement. “We take these threats very seriously. We want to assure residents that Nassau County PD is taking every precaution necessary to keep residents safe — including those peacefully demonstrating tonight.”
Suffolk County police also urged calm.
“I, like other members of law enforcement and people throughout the county, am horrified by the unnecessary and tragic death of George Floyd caused by officers from the Minneapolis Police Department,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring the unrest in Minneapolis and across the country. We urge anyone who wants to express their feelings to do so peacefully.”
Floyd’s death — which resulted in four Minneapolis officers being fired and one being charged with murder — triggered days of protests in cities nationwide. While many of the protests were peaceful, others turned violent, including the days of rioting and looting in New York City. The NYPD’s anti-terrorism chief has said that outside agitators are suspected of turning peaceful protests into nightly riots.
The Nassau Inter-County Express/NICE Bus announced that it was temporarily suspending portions of routes that connect with Queens for several hours a day beginning Tuesday evening and continuing through Sunday due to an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. city curfew in effect this week.
Protests have been ongoing from Manhasset to the Hamptons. Several Target stores on LI reportedly closed over the weekend following rumors that they were being targeted for looting. Stores at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City boarded up their windows. The Village of Freeport called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to send in the National Guard to assist with monitoring a protest following internet rumors that Black Lives Matters protesters were going to start looting. And Village of Hempstead officials are planning a news conference Wednesday to discuss anti-looting measures.
“Local ministers will join together with merchants and community leaders to say a prayer for peace for local and national healing ahead of a large protest planned for later this week in Hempstead,” the village said.
“Approximately 500 local residents attended a peaceful demonstration in the Village of Freeport,” Freeport Mayor Mayor Robert T. Kennedy said. “With the cooperation of state, county, and local law enforcement all in attendance, we were proud to see no violence, no arrests, and no unrest, as residents voices were heard loud and clear. I was proud to address the crowd and speak with leaders on racial injustice, and will always do our part in the village to progress racial equality and justice for all.”
Long Beach City Police said they are also monitoring marches on the barrier island.
“These are not city-supported or sanctioned, but we are proactively monitoring current events and are committed to ensuring the public safety and welfare of all the city’s residents,” the department said in a statement. “Long Beach is a diverse and tightly-knit community. We are confident in our resident’s ability to peacefully assemble and express their views.”
Among the most high-profile rallies on LI, marchers walking northbound on William Floyd Parkway in Shirley blocked traffic Monday night, causing delays. But the march ended without incident.
“In contrast to what we have seen in communities across the country and in New York City, the protests, the demonstrations that occurred here yesterday and in the days before that have been peaceful,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday. “You have not seen the kind of violence or property damage, looting, that we have seen in other places around our country. And that is a credit to the people who have come out to express their anger and frustration and their pain.”
The rallies come as the region is still working to emerge from the coronavirus shutdown prompted by the global pandemic. Experts who were worried that recent protests calling for reopening the economy — including one in which President Donald Trump tweeted support for protesters who called a News12 Long Island reporter “fake news” — may cause a spike in new cases have renewed their concerns of a COVID-19 spike following the latest protests.
It’s not the first time the nation saw nationwide riots amid a deadly health crisis. During the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 5 percent of the world population, civil unrest in America enduring included the May Day riots, the Red Summer race riots, and the Boston Police Strike, which sparked nationwide fears of similar lawlessness.
Like then, the Floyd protests also continue regardless of the virus. At a march in Mineola over the weekend, picketers chanted “take a knee,” calling for police officers to join them in their protest. Commissioner Ryder joined them and knelt in solidarity.
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