Tensions were high during anti-police brutality protests Tuesday across Long Island amid fears that the demonstrations would turn riotous as they have in cities nationwide, but local rallies remained peaceful, authorities say.
A face-off occurred when residents gathered on Merrick Road in Merrick to block a group of protesters from marching down Route 27A on Tuesday, prompting Nassau County police officers to broker negotiations between the more than 100 Black Lives Matter picketers and residents refusing to let demonstrators through.
“Go west!” residents are heard yelling at the protesters gathered outside of the Wendy’s restaurant on Merrick Road, suggesting that the marchers should head to the neighboring more diverse Village of Freeport instead of through Merrick, which is mostly white. “Get them the hell out of here!”
Community members here in Merrick and surrounding towns adamantly opposed to Nassau police trying to figure out a way to allow protesters to walk up Merrick Road. As of now, police are blocking the protestors. @News12LI pic.twitter.com/F9Qu1g8NSH
— Shari Einhorn (@ShariEinhorn12) June 2, 2020
Thousands of people have been rallying in Nassau and Suffolk counties in support 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. Four cops were fired and one was charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.
“As someone who lives in Merrick, it’s disgusting to see people in our supposed family community be actively against an anti-racism protest,” Clare Hunter of Merrick told the Merrick Herald-Life.
Nassau police had issued a statement Tuesday that they were monitoring online rumors that agitators were planning to hijack the peaceful protests to incite riots and looting. A Nassau County police spokeswoman said that the Merrick standoff was resolved and the protesters were allowed to march without incident.
“Cooler heads prevailed,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.
Among the social media posts fueling fears of protests potentially turning into rioting in Merrick were images of bricks left along Merrick Road. Some residents suspected the bricks were left by agitators who were going to thrown them into store windows. A Nassau police spokesman said authorities investigated the placement of the bricks and found no criminality. Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the bricks were left there from recent construction work.
“A lot of them turned out to be fake,” Curran said of the social media posts that threatened riots and looting on LI. “Many are meant to agitate people, to make people afraid when people are already anxious because of the pandemic.”
Ryder agreed social media users need to do their due diligence on posts to avoid feeding the hysteria.
“People are stirring it up,” he said. “‘There’s bricks everywhere in Nassau County and ever town was looted,’ if you paid attention to all these social media. None of it happened.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also expressed concern about how easily social media users are duped into believing misinformation that fuels chaos.
“It is right now incredibly easy for somebody to create chaos on social media on the internet from their basement with a computer and a keyboard,” he said, noting that police are investigating social media posts falsely claiming looting occurred in Suffolk. “We cannot go on like this where it is so easy to create havoc, to create chaos … by just posting things on social media that are not true.”
Police reported there were no arrests Tuesday during protests in Merrick, Freeport, Valley Stream, or Long Beach, which was the largest of all with more than 2,000 marchers. Suffolk County police also said there were no arrests during demonstrations Tuesday in Shirley, Smithtown, or elsewhere, although marchers did block traffic on William Floyd Parkway for the second day in a row, as well as Sunrise Highway and the Long Island Expressway. Stringer News reported Sunrise was closed for 45 minutes due to protests at one point.
Commissioner Ryder also said outside agitators are suspected of trying to exploit the peaceful protests.
“People have to pay attention here because your kids are out there,” Ryder said. “They’re going into these protests, they’re peaceful. Then you got an anarchist group coming behind, an Antifa kid coming behind, and white supremacist kid coming behind. They’re pushing your kid forward into those acts, and then they’re doing the acts and your kid gets pulled in.”
Another protest is expected in Merrick on Saturday.