Some Long Islanders have responded with intolerance to the dozens of peaceful anti-police brutality protests that have swept Nassau and Suffolk counties in the past week.
Merrick residents infamously tried to block Black Lives Matter demonstrators from marching through their mostly white community this week and told them to “go west” toward more diverse neighboring Freeport. The owner of Huntington-based restaurant Tutto Pazzo apologized after calling marchers “savages” and saying he was going to throw watermelons at the protesters. The CEO of Dominican Village, a nonprofit assisted living facility in Amityville, was put on leave after commenting on a Facebook photo of a rally that someone should “run the dirt down.” Someone tried to run over protesters in West Babylon while yelling “white lives matter!” And an ex-Nassau County police employee was caught on video using a racial slur and spitting at a black man on Merrick Avenue in Merrick.
“The Nassau County Police Department has been made aware of a video circulating on social media which captured an unfortunate incident in which a former employee was disrespectful and antagonistic using a racial slur towards a protester,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said Friday in a joint statement. “This person has not been employed by the police department in two years. In no way does his behavior reflect the commitment that the Nassau County Police Department has to protect and serve all people.”
Thousands of people have been marching locally 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 charged in the death of George Floyd.
Despite many Long Islanders falling for false social media claims that the protests were going to turn into riots as they had elsewhere, such as New York City, which is under a week-long curfew to curb looting, the biggest disruption on LI to date has been marchers blocking traffic and kneeling in roadways in non-violent civil disobedience.
The reaction is unsurprising, given LI’s long history of segregation. Hempstead residents won a federal lawsuit after a judge ruled Garden City’s zoning unfairly discriminated against minorities, well-heeled Dix Hills sits atop mostly black Wyandanch — which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dubbed “one of the most economically distressed communities on Long Island” — and a report released in 2014 by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA branded LI “one of the most segregated and fragmented suburban rings in the country.”
With more protests expected through the weekend and people already on edge due to the coronavirus pandemic, tensions are sure to remain high in the days ahead.