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‘Enough with the senseless violence.’ As nation grapples with tragedy, protesters in Riverhead fight for change

The front of Eric Williams’ shirt featured an image of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed Monday in police custody. On the back was written: “I am George Floyd.”

As protests in response to Mr. Floyd’s killing have erupted across the nation, Mr. Williams — whose father Larry was a founder of Riverhead’s Stop the Violence basketball tournament — wanted to bring people together in his hometown.

As images of fires and violent interactions between protesters and police fill the TV screens at night, his hope was to let people speak and share what’s on their mind in a peaceful setting.

“The main message was enough with the senseless violence,” he said. “It happens to all humans across the board of all colors. But at the end of the day, it seems like it gets magnified for the people of ethnicity and color.”

Mr. Williams organized a gathering Sunday afternoon at Stotzky Park, which drew more than 100 people, including some elected officials such as Councilwomen Catherine Kent and Jodi Giglio and Councilman Frank Beyrodt. Ms. Kent and former supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who’s running for State Assembly, spoke to the group. No police officers were present; only a few private security guards.

A separate march, organized by a pair of Riverhead teens, drew even more people to downtown just as Mr. Williams’ event ended. Protesters marched from the riverfront to Riverhead Town Hall, chanting “No justice! No peace!”

Riverhead police blocked traffic to allow the protesters to safely march and there was largely little interaction. The largest group of officers remained in front of the nearby police station when the group reached Town Hall. Some were outfitted in riot gear, in case tensions escalated.

It was never needed.

“This community is strong,” said one of the organizers, who only gave her first name as Anubia. “We don’t need violence to get across our message.”

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