On Staten Island, a National Action Network (NAN) rally of approximately 650 people was led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, longtime civil right activist, and Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, directed at expediting action regarding the killing of George Floyd, while bringing attention to the plight of the Black community.
(Photos and video to follow. Please stay posted.)
The prayer vigil was held at the site of Eric Garner’s death, across from Tompkinville Park, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Public Advocate Williams was clear that he, and the crowd, wanted to be heard: “We’re tired! We’re fed up!” The crowd was also led in a chant of, “Enough is enough! Enough is enough!”
National Action Network Staten Island chapter leader Cynthia Davis implored protesters to pray for peace, asking the crowd not to take out their collective anger on the police, at large, “…because of a few bad ones.”
As has been the case for the last four days, protesters took to the streets across the United States in support of the arrest and prosecution of the four police officers involved in the death of George Floyd in Minnesota on Monday, an unarmed Black man who lost his life on the streets of Minneapolis.
One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck until Floyd was unconscious as the officer enacted an arrest for an alleged nonviolent crime, while two others sat on the man’s chest, constricting his breathing.
Chauvin has since been arrested for murder, and even his wife isn’t standing by his side through this, having subsequently filed divorce papers on him.
The rally today on Staten Island began at 1 PM, starting with the prayer vigil in front of 202 Bay Street, the site of Eric Garner’s death in 2014.
Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, was among the leadership at the rally, and addressed the assembled crowd at the march’s close.
Garner died after a controversial choke-hold was employed by then-police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who has since been fired from the force as of 2019, as a direct result of his actions against Garner that day.
In an attempt to restrain and arrest Eric Garner, Pantaleo went too far in his efforts to subdue him after officers alleged that Garner was selling “loosies”, single cigarettes peddled on the streets.
Although Garner had a history of selling cigarettes, videos taken that day reveal that Eric Garner, and civilian witnesses, all maintained that he was only breaking up a fight in this instance.
While some focus on the fact that the police officer was White, and the victim Black, the Sergeant on duty at the scene was Black. And, a woman. In any case, the issue at hand is how police deal with the underclass, and whether police should use such violent means of arresting nonviolent and compliant suspects.
There is an ongoing movement to ban the choke-hold from use by police, nationwide. Very little criticism could be drawn about this effort, as the job of police is not to execute anyone, but rather to bring a suspect into custody, if need be.
President Trump has condemned this most recent senseless killing. That’s more than many past Republican, and Democrat, leaders have done in analogous situations. He had this to say on Twitter:
“80% of the RIOTERS in Minneapolis last night were from OUT OF STATE. They are harming businesses (especially African American small businesses), homes, and the community of good, hardworking Minneapolis residents who want peace, equality, and to provide for their families.” -Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
80% of the RIOTERS in Minneapolis last night were from OUT OF STATE. They are harming businesses (especially African American small businesses), homes, and the community of good, hardworking Minneapolis residents who want peace, equality, and to provide for their families.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2020
Both incidents share some characteristics.
Both victims informed the arresting officers that they couldn’t breathe.
Both victims were Black. Both officers responsible for the loss of life were White.
Neither Eric Garner, nor George Floyd, was being charged with any alleged violent offenses.
Floyd’s supposed crime? He matched the description of someone who had pawned off an ersatz ten dollar bill to a cashier in a nearby store.
Was there a need for such a forceful take-down, in either case? Use of restraining techniques that could end in such finality for petty nonviolent crimes?
Since this latest incident of a citizen losing their life at the hands of an arresting officer, Minneapolis, and many other large cities in the U.S., have not been “business as usual.”
In fact, anything but.
Residents want the police, and the city administrators, to know that it’s not okay and never will be.
Some protests have been nonviolent. Other have not.
And, it makes a big difference. Newark and Detroit still haven’t recovered from the destruction and vandalism that happened during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s; many businesses left and never came back.
That leaves the people of a community with fewer shopping choices. Fewer jobs.
It’s senseless to harm businesses in your own community! Definitely not productive. Avoiding harming Black-owned businesses is not enough. We need to find more effective channels to get our message out.
We want others jumping on board. It can’t just be People of Color. Why alienate potential allies?
My proposal is to honk your horn for nine minutes at 25 minutes after the hour, as George Floyd’s official time of death was written by the medical examiner as 9:25 PM.
Nine minutes was the amount of time George Floyd was lying there with a knee to his neck.
If you’re not in your car but you’re outside, whistle. Shout truth. Clap your hands. Sing. Drop a rhyme. Express your feelings! Any of that is more effective than letting destructiveness get the better of us and ruining our own surroundings.
At 9:25, go outside and sing “We Shall Overcome” with your neighbors. Light a candle on your porch or windowsill and keep it lit.
Sit-ins and marches never harmed anyone. The worst anyone experiences as a result is a traffic jam. There was, in fact, a brief sit-in after the march to the 120.
That gets a clearer message of defiant protest across to other non-involved Americans than videos of rubble, the ruined framework of what was once a building smoking and sizzling at dawn. Because ultimately that’s what this is about: communicating a need for change.
As Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I think we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard and what it is that America has failed to hear.” But there are far more effective ways of communicating this. That’s a fact.
There was a protest at Union Square two nights ago; estimates of crowd size range, but there were likely around 150 protesters.
And last evening, there were other protests around New York City at Foley Square and another at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, where 200 protesters were arrested out of a crowd of around 3,000.
One out-of-town woman was charged with trying to ignite an occupied police vehicle with a homemade Malatov cocktail. The incendiary device did not light, and she was quickly apprehended.
The Target store on the block of the Brooklyn arena prepared for any violence by boarding up their storefront with plywood, as the Target in Minneapolis was looted until the shelves were bare, as a building across the street burned to the ground.
Today’s protest in St. George was a nonviolent event. Prior protests on the island focusing on firing Officer Pantaleo had also been peaceful.
James Baldwin, a famous Black writer, published The Fire Next Time in 1963, a soft-cover book containing two essays, one of which was entitled “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.”
This essay was all about how a young Black man can take the negativity around him, directed at him, suffusing his very Soul, and channel it productively.
Not all protesters agree that nonviolence is the answer. As can be observed from the gleanings of YouTube videos and major news outlets, some protesters feel that violent means are necessary, as nonviolence has failed them.
They eschew the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of nonviolence and prefer the radical militarism of Malcolm X, whether going along with the Black Muslim ideology, or not.
At the rally, someone said that “we can’t have peace until we have justice.” But by that, it’s only meant that normal life will be disrupted for the denizens of the city, not that anyone is calling for outright harm to persons or property.
The two ideas are as different as could be.
It’s A Staten Island Thing
Staten Island is a community that lost one of our own to questionable police action in our recent past. Yet, no one here is looting and burning.
And, this time around, it’s doubtful we’ll see any of that sort of behavior, either. We seem to have a different kind of sensibility here.
Staten Island is a unique place. Perhaps only Summit, New Jersey, deliberately conceived as an experiment, a multi-ethnic enclave created by deliberate design, comes close.
Our Island has no ethnic sections like most towns and cities, but rather many, many diverse people living side by side, going to Church together, and their kids going to school and playing outside together. And, that means something.
At my local supermarkets in Mariner’s Harbor, and Port Richmond, where I live, I see neighbors greeting one another with a hug–black, white, Hispanic–asking about family members, inquiring about grandparents and kids.
Staten Island may have its issues, and not every section of the island may be like this, but on the North-West Shore — West Brighton, Graniteville, Elm Park, Port Richmond, and Arlington — we’re Blessed to have a connection between us that is truly neighborly.
Staten Islanders care. Let’s just leave it at that. That’s why Ramsey Orta, a Hispanic man, took the video of Eric Garner’s death, as the use of excessive force drained his large body of its spark of animating life in broad daylight.
Will the protests change anything? Will the violent rioting and looting happening in other cities negate the important message trying to be sent to our politicians, cultural leaders, and society at large? Only time will tell, but let’s hope the message behind it all is not lost.
Staten Islander News Organisation does not condone violence, whether by police or citizenry. We can all learn to get along, though it may take lots of hard work. This is the only way it has worked, and shall continue to, well into the future.
Perhaps Rodney King’s words, “Can’t we all just get along?” sobbed through tears at the devastation he witnessed during the 1992 L.A. riots after the videotape of his beating by police wasn’t bad advice. After all, he would be in a position to understand better than anyone.
And George Floyd’s girlfriend, who incidentally appears to be White, is helping clean up after the riots that damaged property in her city, telling reporters that it’s what Mr. Floyd would have done for his community, were he still alive and it was someone else who had been killed and riots ensued afterwards.
We urge you to come together with members of your community and be an example to the world as people of an urban enclave where racism is dead. Be active in your community and fight for change in meaningful, and measurable, ways.
Dread only that we may not give fully of ourselves, that we may fail to be our best. Then, we’re failing ourselves, each other, and future generations.
While Staten Island is the borough with the highest number of police officers living in its sleepy bedroom communities, and support for the police here is off-the-charts, we’re also people of Faith, Real People, and know Right from wrong.
You can support law enforcement, and its efforts, without believing anything that any police officer does is something worth supporting.
You can support your Church while feeling disgusted by the misdeeds of certain priests. It’s only normal to be able to separate.
As Gwen Carr stated at the rally, there are good and bad people everywhere.
Think of how many hardworking law enforcement officers go to work every day in NYC, and cities and towns across America, who do their job well, exercise restraint, and care about their communities.
Whenever one of their own steps out of line, it hurts every good police officer.
It’s even worse when cops are just following their training, and it’s really the training protocols that are to blame.
That’s why the new law banning choke-holds of all types needs to be passed on a national level, and the sooner the better.
We Staten Islanders do our own thing.
We laugh at people from other places because they just don’t get what we understand so easily. Being isolated, the ever-Forgotten Boro, has given us perspective.
On everything. We have the best pizza. The best bagels. The best restaurants.
The best street art. The best music. The best parks.
Not to brag, but we also have the best schools. The best cultural centers, like Snug Harbor and Richmondtown.
And, we have an absolute first-class performance venue, the St. George Theatre, a hidden gem that rivals any Broadway venue, in terms of its luxuriousness and grandness. We have the Wu Tang Clan.
We have it all.
People from other places that laugh at us don’t even know what they’re poking fun at.
We usually don’t even care that we’re forgotten. We do our own thing, anyway.
Let the haters hate.
We venture to the city or Jersey, but in the end, it’s this island we love.
If truth be told, none of what’s happening this week is funny; this is serious business, and addressing issues involving the over-policing of low-income and Black communities is long overdue.
As is reconsidering how to best get the message across to our leaders.
Eric Garner did not deserve to die. George Floyd did not deserve to die.
If either had committed a crime, it was the police’s place only to make sure they ultimately ended up in a courtroom, where they’d receive a fair hearing before a judge and jury.
Do Your Duty
If you are Black, or you are White, or you are Hispanic, or you are Asian, or you are Middle Eastern…and you want to change things, stop throwing out your Jury Duty summonses!
Do your duty and sit there for a day, or a week, and let your voice be heard. It’s only forty dollars a day, but it’s well-worth it.
It’s your chance to bring your insights to society, your moral sense, your understanding of the facts.
But more than that, be active in your community. Vote. Attend Community Board meetings. Attend events at your kids’ school. Be there for Church events. Comment on news sites like this one. We don’t even require a login or real name; there’s just no excuse!
Don’t expect politics or voting for this one or that to solve everything. There’s no easy way out. And, life just doesn’t work that way.
You’ll find that the answers we need have been here along along, but we all have to do our part. Doing anything else is a dereliction of duty as an American, and World, citizen.
It doesn’t matter what your politics or religion are. YOU are vital. If you disagree with what I write, you misunderstand that even your disagreement is important.
All voices need to be heard. Too often today, especially with social media, we are in an echo chamber where we only hear other voices reinforcing our own views.
Debate and discussion are the cornerstones of American life; let’s not forget that.
Let’s hope we end up with solutions, and that a small number of out-of-control protesters doesn’t compound the harm created by a small number of likewise out-of-control cops.