The Impact and Importance of Black Lives Matter in Shoreham-Wading River (and across Long Island)

SWR senior Kaylee Thomsen at the BLM protest on June 17, 2020

Mika Misawa, Editor-in-Chief

“I can’t breathe.”

George Floyd gasped out these final words as he struggled for breath underneath the pressure of three police officers. On June 17, SWR community members chanted these same words at the Shoreham Plaza, in front of cars driving by on Route 25A. A sizable crowd gathered carrying signs and wearing masks. Most were younger members of the community, but all had come to peacefully protest what happened to George Floyd on May 25 and countless other African Americans throughout recent history.

As of October 28, 2020, a judge has upheld the charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter on the officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, who was released on bail earlier this month and awaits a trial in March 2021. Breonna Taylor was yet another African American shot by the police. The Kentucky EMT was killed by police who barged into her home whilst executing a “no-knock warrant” on March 13, 2020. Her death has also received nationwide attention and in September, a grand jury decision indicted one of the three officers involved in the shooting with three counts of wanton endangerment over shots fired into neighbors apartments. Notably, there were no direct charges over Taylor’s death.

After the horrifying video of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on 46-year-old George Floyd’s neck surfaced, protests erupted across the country and around the globe. People on Long Island, including Riverhead, Westhampton, and Shoreham, joined in on the cry for racial justice as well.

Shoreham-Wading River High School senior, Yusra Rashidzada, attended a protest in Riverhead on June 13. She was informed of the event by friends who had seen the flyer on Facebook. 

“We were all standing on the side of the road and holding up signs and basically just chanting ‘George Floyd,’ ‘no justice no peace,’ and we were holding our signs,” she said. “And at the very end, we all kneeled…we had moments of silence for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”

Shiru Mburu, another senior at SWR, came across a protest in Westhampton on June 6. “We parked in a field and there were at least 200 or more people there. There were two tents [and]  they had signs that they had made themselves that they were handing out and we walked to a crowd.” She was thrilled at the diversity of people supporting calls for racial justice saying, “At the protest there were mixed races, everyone: Latino, Black, white…everyone was there.” 

Mburu also recalled speakers telling their own personal stories and the structural racism existing in society, as well as a small lecture on police brutality. 

As a person of color at SWR, Mburu said, “[I was] protesting for what’s right… because I’ve had personal experiences [with] racism…so being at the protest, it wasn’t like I was [just] standing up for George Floyd and for Breonna Taylor, I’m also standing up for myself because…emotionally, I’ve been hurt.”

The protest at Shoreham Plaza occurred on June 17, and was scheduled to begin at 1:00 PM. In its first hour, the protest, also advertised through social media, had gained a crowd of around 50, which stretched along the sidewalk adjacent to the main road. Participants shouted “silence is violence” and “this is what democracy looks like,” as well as “defund the police.” Signs reading “Imagine What Isn’t Being Filmed,” “Black Trans Lives Matter,” and “Don’t be brainless, people of color are dying” were raised high above protesting heads. Due to the ongoing pandemic, all wore masks—some with “Black Lives Matter” written on them. The 6-feet-apart social distancing guidelines were largely ignored. 

I’m very tired of constantly dreading to go to school because [of] me being me and fearing that other people hate it. I just have to go to school even though everybody hates me.

— Shiru Mburu

While the event was organized by two SWR community members and graduates of Shoreham-Wading River High School, Carley Nicoletti and Olivia Acuna, other individual participants also took up the torch by leading call-and-response chants like “No racist”/“Police” and “Hands up”/“Don’t shoot.” Acuna said after the protest, “We organized it, but we had so much help from the community and so much help from other people… it was definitely like a community effort and organization.” At 2:38 PM, everyone fell quiet and raised their fists in an 8 minute, 46 second silence in recognition of the amount of time George Floyd was forcibly pinned to the ground and lay dying. At 3:30 PM, the protestors marched west along Route 25A to the Soundview Eye Center before turning back around, calling out myriad chants including “Black Lives Matter.” Many passersby honked their horns, raised their fists, and gave their thumbs up in solidarity; however not all onlookers appreciated the protestors’ calls for justice. More than a couple drivers made obscene gestures and some others yelled expletives out of their window. In comparison with other protests they had attended, Nicoletti admitted “there was more opposition, I would say, from cars passing by.” 

When asked why they organized this event, Nicoletti replied, “It was kind of spur-of-the-moment, we had just been to a few other protests and we were kind of like, it would be really awesome if our community could come because our community needs to step up the most because we are a very racist— and segregated [tagged on by Acuna]— town so we wanted to give a platform here for people to come out and speak…” and Acuna added, “…and show our town that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement even though we are segregated and red [Republican],” and “predominately white” Nicoletti tacked on.

Both Acuna and Nicoletti’s statements regarding segregation and diversity in Shoreham-Wading River and Long Island as a whole, sadly, hold much truth. Called “one of the most segregated suburbs in America” by Newsday, Long Island communities remain firmly and visibly divided along racial lines. This results in many schools on the island having highly disproportionate student populations, including Shoreham-Wading River High School. 

As a majority white school with only 10% minority population according to a 2016-2017 NYSED report, Shoreham-Wading River High School “is already isolating for students of color,” Yusra Rashidzada admits. And it also suffers from racism ingrained in its culture as the senior also says, “I have witnessed a lot of racism in the school…not directed at me, but ignorant people saying offensive things, like the n-word or [other] racial slurs.” 

Shiru Mburu confesses, “I’m very tired of constantly dreading to go to school because [of] me being me and fearing that other people hate it. I just have to go to school even though everybody hates me.” Mburu adds that she and her sister have gone to school administration to report their experiences with racism at SWR on multiple occasions and have even suggested an assembly about racism to educate students on how to identify their own unacceptable behaviors. 

Due to policies regarding student confidentiality SWR administration was unable to comment.

Opening up to recent developments, Mburu chillingly says, “It’s incredibly terrifying because I could die because of the color of my skin.” After watching countless videos where police officers pull over a person of color with their weapons already drawn, she says, “It’s actually really scary to know that could happen to me, or my dad, or my mom, and my sister.”

 

Editor’s Note: a previous publication listed interviewees as juniors, as of the 2020-2021 school year they are seniors.