Protesters gathered at the William Floyd Parkway in Shirley on Sunday to call for removing the statue of former New York Senator William Floyd that greets visitors to the community.
While remembered for being a general in the Revolutionary War and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Floyd was also a slave owner, an act that protesters say should not go unacknowledged. Floyd owned between six and 12 slaves, and his family was among the first to bring slavery into the Town of Brookhaven.
“For students of the William Floyd School District the history of their own town was erased and white-washed,” organizers of the protest wrote. “We learned about [Floyd’s] accomplishments as if they outweighed his sins. The statue is a constant reminder that people of color are second-class citizens in this town and in this country.”
The William Floyd Community Summit was gifted the statue by late artist Santo Matarazzo and was the organization responsible for installing it. But like the statue outside Babylon Village Hall of the late master builder Robert Moses, whose policies have been deemed racist, protesters are now calling for it to come down.
A petition to remove the Floyd statue started by Desiree Magee of Shirley and circulated online had gathered more than 3,200 signatures as of this post.
“I learned about William Floyd being a slave owner a couple of years ago,” one black protester from Shirley said. “I went to William Floyd [High School]. I should have known that earlier.”
Magee says while she didn’t expect the overwhelming community support she received in the first few days of launching the petition, the petition also galvanized opposition, “who are against the removal, who are enraged and say we are trying to erase history.”
“We are not trying to erase history, we are simply trying to stop the division that is clear in our community,” she said.
Shortly after Magee’s petition gained traction, a counter petition was launched by resident Vincent Viola to keep the statue where it stands. The petition has amassed nearly 3,700 signatures.
“We are proud of [Floyd’s] historical significance in this country,” the petition reads. “If your problem is with the government, take it up with them and don’t bully Billy.”
Protesters demanded replacing the statue with a monument to the indigenous Unkechaug people, defunding police, instituting salary caps for law enforcement, and transparency in the appropriation of a local Boys and Girls Club’s funds.
While police officers were present at the protest, Magee commended their efforts at community dialogue. She said Commander McCormick of the Seventh Precinct was on site opening “a line of communication to a part of our community that normally the [police department] wouldn’t reach out to.”
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