Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement amped up calls for the removal of the William Floyd statue in Shirley on Sunday and outlined additional changes they want to be addressed, including the defunding of the Suffolk County Police Department, in a protest that drew more than a hundred people.
The protest, in front of the statue on the corner of William Floyd Parkway and Montauk Highway, was symbolically held a day after Independence Day. Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and New York state legislator, was a slaveholder.
“We’re out here saying that the thing you’re most honored about — on July 4th — we weren’t free,” said Jay Bell, of Mastic.
Desiree Magee, who started the online petition seeking the statue’s removal and, with Bell, is a member of The Empowered Black Society, added that the protest was aimed at bringing awareness to Floyd’s background as a slaveholder and “the division” the statue represents within the community. The petition has more than 3,200 signatures.
Beth Wahl, president of the William Floyd Summit, whose beautification committee cares for the county-owned parcel where the statue is located, said last month that while she would be happy to speak with protesters and listen to their concerns, “it’s not that we are willing to take it down.”
Sunday’s event, led by the Society and The Change Begins With Us, among other organizations, was billed as “Protesting False Notions of Freedom.”
Chants of “Black lives matter!” were mixed with “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. William Floyd has got to go!” and “No justice, no peace. No racist police.”
A couple held a “Blue Lives Matter” sign, while one man held a “Trump 2020 & Beyond” poster and an American flag.
Bellport community organizer Georgiana Fitzgerald, who is commonly referred to as Monique, outlined the protest groups’ demands, which were sent to elected officials:
- The removal of the William Floyd statue “as it is a symbol of white supremacy,” noting that the community is composed of a “melting pot” that consists of descendants of the people he owned as slaves, and the Unkechaug people. Floyd’s manor in Mastic, she said, was built on “stolen” Unkechaug property.
- A “redress for misappropriation of funds, poor leadership and a lack of transparency,” as well as a cancellation of past-due balances from the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area.
- While thanking police for attending the event, Fitzgerald called for justice for families of “police misconduct, brutalization, assault and killings” and sought the county to “defund the Suffolk County Police and develop a public safety plan WITH the community that properly redistributes those funds in the reimagining of education, housing, youth programs, and mental health services.”
- Justice “for families affected by poor conditions and mistreatment at Suffolk County jails, as well as a salary cap on the Sheriff’s office until conditions improve.”
- Transparency on the closure date of the Town of Brookhaven landfill in Yaphank, which Fitzgerald called “an environmental harm, public health risk and quality of life blight on our community.” She added: We call for Brookhaven Town to publicly release a plan for landfill remediation and cleanup.”
Newly elected Unkechaug Chief Kenneth Virgil Harris offered his support.
Eight minutes and 56 seconds of silence were observed in remembrance of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking protests around the world.
Insp. Matthew McCormick, commander of the Seventh Precinct, described Sunday’s protest as “peaceful,” and he was seen talking to numerous organizers throughout the day.
One speaker noted: “The lines of communication are open. Take advantage of that.”
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of these folks,” said McCormick, who took over in March. “The public’s obviously upset with policing. Folks are still pushing for more change … they still want to gather and air their grievances.”