On May 25, a 46-year-old black man lost his life in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the hands of a white police officer. On June 6, at 5 p.m., around 100 Fire Islanders began marching in Ocean Bay Park, they congregated in peaceful protest where attendee’s began by chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd.”
Protesters echoed similar sentiments to align with those participating in rebellion across the world, demanding recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement reignited by Floyd’s death. “No justice, no peace” echoed down Erie Street in Ocean Bay Park to the Ocean Beach Marina, where the protest concluded.
Organizers, 21-year-old Zoë Snyder from Brooklyn and 23-year-old Emily Pritzl, also from Brooklyn, began the protest by announcing the gathering be in the name of racial injustices
validated by a broken system. They asked that the phrases “don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” be left from the conversation, as attendee’s cannot understand the origins of this terminology.
“We obviously saw the many other protests that have been going on and wanted to use our privilege in a constructive way,” Snyder said.
Pritzl said that in a conversation with her friends and family about the Black Lives Matter movement, she and Snyder were inspired to create a dialogue about how Fire Island can take part in the fight against systemic racism.
“The first step we took was to speak with Ocean Beach Police Chief George Hesse,” Pritzl said. “He put us in contact with a group of other girls who were trying to accomplish the same goal. In our conversations with the Ocean Beach Police Department, their only concern was that the protest remain peaceful.”
As the sea of signs with expressions that read “blue lives don’t exist” and “this is what democracy looks like” moved west, it began to pour. Protesters remained powerfully chanting despite the weather, wearing face coverings to protect against COVID-19. Some were dressed in masks impressed with an iconic Fire Island red wagon design, while others had “BLM” drawn in thick black marker across their face coverings.
“One of our largest concerns from the start was finding our place in this,” Snyder said. “We realize the predominantly white nature of Fire Island … yet, we wanted to amplify the voices of the black community, using our privilege in a space where we feel the black community does not have a voice.”
Seventeen-year-old Maya Dobau from New York City expressed concerns similar to that of Snyder. “We were all questioning the efficacy of a protest on an island that isn’t home to many people of color,” Dobau said. “I think that the people who began the protest spoke to this well in their response that mentions the immense privilege that lingers in this community. We are able to use that privilege to be progressive because as many of the signs say, ‘white silence is violence.’”
Robert Cochran, 27, from Babylon, said he marched to show support of those who have been marginalized in America for so long. “Fire Island’s white nature is all the more reason for justice to be stirred,” Cochran said. “It is just as important that people of color be represented in our community and we need to advocate for them.”
Sixty-year-old Andrea Nimberger from Manhattan, and a longtime Ocean Beach summer resident, concurred with the attitudes expressed by both Dobau and Cochran. She said that in privileged, wealthy communities like Fire Island, it is essential to create spaces for constructive conversations about racial injustice.
As the protest reached its final destination, organizers spoke the names of 60 black who lost their lives in acts of police brutality. There was a minute long moment of silence that followed as protesters stood soaking wet in solidarity.
In a predominately white community, there were only a handful of people of color among the crowd. Yet organizers acknowledged the demographic of attendees and only used this fact to fuel constructive conversation.
Snyder stood up to address the protesters before her and mentioned the presence of the surrounding officers as she spoke. She said that the Incorporated Village of Ocean Beach is triple policed, by officers of the Ocean Beach Police Department, the Suffolk County Police Department and the State Police Department.
“There is zero crime here. The people of Ocean Beach do not need to be policed this strongly. The police budget for 2021 is one million dollars, not including the retirement plan. The people of Ocean Beach choose to contribute their money to this cause when there are plenty of other communities that could really benefit from alternative allocation of these funds.”
Snyder finalized her remarks by reminding each member of the crowd the importance of recognizing their own privilege. Many other young women would follow her.
“Please keep in mind that as we talk, we are speaking from our voices, using our privilege in this space as white people, to stand for our fellow Americans who may feel that they can’t speak out without facing retaliation,” Snyder said. “There are ways for each of us to get involved, and one of the most impactful is to donating.”
The Facebook Group, Fire Island for Black Lives Matter Action Coalition was created to spread word about the protest, and shall remain in place to be used as a forum for continued activism on Fire Island.
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