Featured Story

Riverhead protestors take to Route 58 traffic circle with a call to end police injustice

Shortly before noon Saturday, a small group of local organizers arrived at the traffic circle on Route 58 in Riverhead to set up for an all-day peaceful protest in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last month.

Within an hour, the crowd of protestors had grown to more than 75, as they stood at the sidewalk on the southwest corner of the circle making a plea for justice. The crowd remained steady throughout the day, eventually spilling to both sides of the road, with several more protesters standing in the center median and even the road nearby.

“No justice, no peace. No more racist police,” was among the slogans they shouted as cars passed by, many honking in support of the message.

“Amazingly, this all came together so beautifully,” said organizer Margarita Jimenez Ferebee, who was among a handful of protestors who remained for the entire eight hours. “We have some amazing people in Riverhead.”

Ms. Jimenez Ferebee, who is white and Hispanic and raising bi-racial children with her wife, who is black, said she was impressed with the diversity among the supporters. People of all races, from children to seniors, came out for the event.

Larry Street of Riverhead, a retired teacher and the current president of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the NAACP, also said he appreciated the diversity at Saturday’s protest.

“Now they get to feel our pain,” the 65-year-old said of the emotions expressed by the non-black residents in the crowd. “This is nothing new, in terms of police brutality. It has been happening all of my lifetime.”

Throughout the day protesters chanted the names of Mr. Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a black EMT who was shot and killed in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment as police executed a no-knock search warrant in March.

“It hurt me,” Mr. Street said of seeing the video of Mr. Floyd’s May 25 killing. “It changed something in me.”

He said his hope is the public outcry will inspire more young people to vote and he called out President Donald Trump for “opening a Pandora’s box” of racism.

Earlier Saturday, The Butterfly Effect Project, a local non-profit aimed at empowering young girls, hosted a “Pink and Purple Peaceful Presentation” with Riverhead police outside headquarters. Together, they stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds — the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin reportedly knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck, causing his death.

A similar tribute was made during Saturday afternoon’s protest, as Riverhead police closed Route 58 for 10 minutes to allow protesters to lay in the traffic circle, Ms. Jimenez Ferebee said. Some of the protesters eventually made their way to the officers, asking them to kneel, she added. They declined.

The town police mostly kept their distance during the event, setting up in each of the parking lots around the circle and allowing the protest to continue without incident.

“I’m happy that it was peaceful on both our ends,” said Ms. Jimenez Ferebee. “I know they’re concerned and they’re watching, but they did their jobs great.”

Saturday’s event was one of several recent local events organized to bring attention to police violence. On May 31, a rally held at Stotzky Park was attended by several local elected officials and later that day a large crowd marched from the Peconic Riverfront to Town Hall. Similar events have also been held in Southold Town.

Since Mr. Floyd’s death, Mr. Chauvin and three other officers have been fired and arrested. The protests the incident triggered have begun to lead to police reforms in parts of the country, including New York.

Earlier this week, state lawmakers voted to repeal 50-a, a law that shields officers’ disciplinary records from being made public.

The bill, which passed in both the Senate and Assembly earlier this week, also bans police use of chokeholds and false, race-based calls to 911.

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday.

On Saturday, the governor said local municipalities must pass laws redesigning their police force before April 1, 2021 or risk losing state funding for police.

“You don’t want the money? You don’t have to do it,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Mr. Street applauded the reforms signed into law this week, but said there’s more work to be done.

“There’s a lot more to do all across the country in terms of policing and restructuring and reform altogether,” he said. “It can be done. It has been done. The main point is we need a police return to order.”