Black Lives Matter demonstration planned for downtown Riverhead

Black Lives Matter

A Black Lives Matter demonstration is planned for Sunday afternoon in downtown Riverhead and organizers are describing the event as a peaceful protest to condemn this week’s fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.

Vanessa Vascez-Corleone said she decided to organize the event, which she described as a Black Lives Matter demonstration, after reading online comments about the shootings and wanted to provide an opportunity for people to gather and protest the killings.

“It’s one thing to have an opinion — it’s another to do something,” said Ms. Vascez-Corleone, a 28-year-old Riverhead native who recently moved back to her hometown from Southampton.

“We want everyone to come,” she said.  “All lives do matter.”

She said protesters will first meet in the riverfront parking lot at noon and then line up on both sides of Peconic Avenue holding signs. If protesters decide to march, Ms. Vascez-Corleone said the group will likely head down East Main Street.

The black mother of a 3-year-old boy said while the event isn’t targeted against local authorities, she’s still afraid for her family’s safety.

“I’m scared to think about what could happen if they’re pulled over,” she said. “Without justice, nothing will change.”

This isn’t the first time Ms. Vascez-Corleone has organized a demonstration.

She said she planned a small protest in 2012 where about 10 people gathered downtown to memorialize Trayvon Martin, a black teen fatally shot in Florida.

“Since Trayvon Martin’s death, all these other people were killed and it’s happening more and more,” she said. “We’re not trying to make it a race thing. It’s about everybody coming together since it seems like the black man is being singled out by police.”

On Saturday, she confirmed she received a message from Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter asking her to postpone the demonstration for two weeks.

Ms. Vascez-Corleone said she took the supervisor’s request to an informal vote on her Facebook profile and decided not to return his message after the feedback she received was overwhelming in support of holding the demonstration sooner rather than later.

“I understand his concerns, however, I think he’s looking at this issue from the wrong side,” she said. “We feel this is an urgent thing to do and we’re willing to take the same risks as everyone else protesting across the country.”

Mr. Walter, whose request for the demonstration’s postponement was first reported Friday by Riverheadlocal, would only confirm Saturday that organizers hadn’t reach out to him and he declined further comment.

As of Saturday afternoon, it remains unclear how the town is preparing for the demonstration.

Calls to the Riverhead Town Police Department were deferred to police chief David Hegermiller. He didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Riverhead Fire Department officials said they hadn’t been contacted by the town as of Saturday morning about the demonstration.

Darnesha Miles, a Riverhead resident who’s volunteering to help organize the protest, said she decided to join in an effort to bring awareness of gun violence in general.

“I have a daughter and she’s not safe to play in our own yard,” Ms. Miles said, adding last week’s shooting at an apartment building in Calverton hit close to home because she grew up with the victims.

“We’re trying to make a difference in the community,” she added. “We want the violence to stop.”

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Photo: A Black Lives Matter demonstration Thursday in Minnesota. (Credit: flickr.com / Tony Webster)