Black Lives Still Matter Protest Crowd: Small, But Loud

A “Black Lives Still Matter” rally was held in Southampton Village on Saturday. DANA SHAW

What Saturday afternoon’s “Black Lives Still Matter” rally in Southampton Village lacked in attendees, it more than made up for in volume. Shouting “No justice, no peace!” “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Black Lives Matter!” a contingent of about 50 protesters marched from Agawam Park through the business district, following the same route as a “Back the Blue” march earlier in the day.

As the protesters walked and chanted, scattered applause was offered from some businesses and people on the street. For the most part, however, observers watched silently as the diverse group marched past, shouting the movement’s slogans such as, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Outside one Main Street shop, an employee held a sign, while two pedestrians showed support with raised fists.

The group assembled in the park before beginning to march. There, an elderly man confronted them, yelling somewhat unintelligibly, as organizer Willie Jenkins urged others to refrain from engaging. “We love you,” he said through a megaphone as two police officers astride bicycles guided the man and a companion from the park.

Marchers carried signs and one couple, Brian Mott and Jimmy Mack of Southampton, navigated the street with a giant effigy of President Donald Trump, winking, holding up tiny hands and wearing a “Make America Gay Again” baseball cap. One marcher’s sign read, “Racism Lives in the Hamptons,” while another placard displayed the president’s face with a swastika as its background.

Upon returning to the park, Mr. Jenkins spoke to the group. “We have to stop separating ourselves and come together as humans.” He observed the assemblage, taking note of the low turnout. Comparing it to protests locally last spring that saw over 1,000 march in Bridgehampton, he said, “I don’t care if it’s 50 people. I don’t care if it’s just two people, use your voice. If you have privilege, use your privilege.”

“They say Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization,” he continued. “I believe in the flag. I love America. That’s why I’m standing up for what’s right.”

Mr. Jenkins twice offered thanks to police at the rally, expressing appreciation for their assistance, and encouraging the group to applaud officers there. Gathered together at the edge of the park, officers acknowledged the applause, some raising water bottles in a salute.

Trevon Jenkins of the Shinnecock Nation encouraged people to vote. It’s the only way things will change, he said, adding, “We just want to matter as much as the next white person does.”

Rally organizer Lisa Votino related a negative experience at a “Back the Blue” event held earlier this summer in western Long Island. “I went hoping for the best and hoping to be proved completely wrong, and I wasn’t.”

“Hateful rhetoric” came from speakers during the event, and, as a counter protester was leaving, she was called “an effing gorilla,” Ms. Votino said.

When she learned a rally of the same title was planned for Southampton, the activist said,

“We were concerned.” Local supporters eyed the event quizzically, since earlier East End rallies had been positive.

Ms. Votino attended the morning’s rally and described it as “better than I thought it would be, and I’m very, very happy about that.” She said she hopes to meet with the organizer of the local “Back the Blue” rally, “sit down, have a discussion, and see where we can find common ground.”