By Katherine Hoey
Despite heavy rain throughout the evening, people turned out in Shirley to protest against racial injustice for the fifth night in a row, sparked by the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd while in police custody.
GreaterMoriches had the crowd size at nearly 300 at its height, but Suffolk police placed the count at around 100, adding that there were no arrests or injuries.
The protests started Monday when Nakia Sparkmon, 27, a nurse’s aide from Mastic, saw only one person protesting Sunday night and urged others through social media to join and have their voices heard. She said she has barely slept since.
“I filled a role I didn’t know we needed,” Sparkmon said. “The amount of help we have received from the community is emotionally crazy.”
The protest quickly gained momentum over the course of the week. Organizers are in the initial stage of creating a committee to develop key ideas for reform, which was inspired after meeting with Suffolk County Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis on Thursday.
Yet Sparkmon urged people to continue to show up and speak out.
“It’s the whole community’s responsibility, not just mine,” she said.
Many protesters emphasized that they are out here to fight for all people, especially marginalized or often-overlooked groups, like black transgender people.
“Because I am a gay black person, I’m fighting for all people. We go through so much as gay people, as black people. We need to be heard,” Isaiah Dehaney, 19, a Moriches resident, said. “I’m sick of our people dying. Black lives surely do matter and we need to keep saying that.”
On Friday, organizers set up a voter-registration booth and handed out snacks, beverages, pizza and ponchos for the rain.
Motorists honked in support as protestors lined a guard rail along the corner of Montauk Highway and William Floyd Parkway, cardboard signs in hand, chanting and cheering.
A DJ booth was set up playing songs like, “This is America” by Childish Gambino and “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson.
They handed out red, white and blue flowers as well as red heart-shaped balloons honoring Breonna Taylor who would have turned 27 on Friday.
Taylor was an EMT from Kentucky who was fatally shot March 13 after officers forced their way inside her home in an attempted drug sting.
A commemoration was held in honor of Taylor, Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
The diverse crowd was peaceful throughout the evening, after a rough start on Monday, when two protesters were arrested.
“It’s very scary to think that just because of our skin color we could be killed,” April McKay, a Mastic resident and mother of 8, said. “I fight for everybody. It doesn’t matter what color you are, wrong is wrong. I’m here to fight for what’s right and that’s to make sure my kids have a chance in life, that they don’t have to worry about being shot down because of who they are. I just pray the world can come together. Our ancestors did it peacefully and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Inspector Matthew McCormick, commanding officer of the Seventh Precinct, said that the protests have come a long way and that it is his job to help the protesters remain peaceful.
To put the Shirley protest into perspective, another officer said: “The rest of the country’s burning and we’re listening to music.”
Afterward, protesters marched east on Montauk Highway.
On Saturday, protesters will switch gears and meet up in Center Moriches at the King Kullen Shopping Center at 5 p.m.
Photos by Katherine Hoey