By Alec Giufurta
For eight minutes and 46 seconds, more than 300 demonstrators lied flat, face down, blanketing Main Street in Sag Harbor. Shouting “I can’t breathe,” and “George Floyd,” Friday’s protesters demanded action on the East End and nationally to fight police brutality and racism.
As the fourth major demonstration on the East End this week, the protest in Sag Harbor showcased an emerging demographic in leadership: teens and 20-somethings. The protest was organized by college student Brooke Canavan, 19, a 2019 graduate of Pierson High School and a member of the newly formed East End Against Hate, a student-led anti-racism group.
Participants gathered in Steinbeck Park at noon as a group of speakers addressed the crowd from a podium.
Willie Jenkins, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s Bridgehampton protest, spoke in awe of the crowd: “I never thought in a million years I’d see a protest against racism in Sag Harbor.”
Mr. Jenkins also recounted his own experiences of racism and police violence he and friends have experienced in Sag Harbor.
The protest appeared to pick up participants as it transitioned to a march through the streets. First, the group ascended to the peak of the LCpl Jordan Haerter Veterans’ Memorial Bridge, before making its way onto Main Street.
As was the case in Bridgehampton on Tuesday, police officers coordinated with organizers to close main roads in the village — including the bridge — during the protest, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire said.
He added that the crowd size of “about 350 people” was what he had planned for.
Protesters circled the entire stretch of Main Street twice, chanting rallying cries of “Hands up don’t shoot” and “Say his name, George Floyd.” Protesters likewise carried hand-painted or illustrative signs.
Two younger participants, Maija Fiedelholtz and Frankie Koman, even designed a surfboard, the bottom reading “Black Lives Matter.”
Camryn Highsmith, a college student raised in Southampton, led much of the march’s chant. She demanded the crowd raise their voices: “I [want to] hear you,” and “Be louder,” she called.
“We’ve been through segregation, we’ve been through slavery, we’ve been through so many things and to have us be seen as inferior people is outrageous,” Ms. Highsmith said.
Ashley Peters and Ms. Highsmith then led protesters in taking to the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time it took former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to suffocate George Floyd. Many protests nationally have included this same element.
Friday’s event not only served as a memorial to black lives lost to police violence, but as a call to action for the predominantly white attendees — and residents of the East End — to actively fight systemic racism.
Georgette Grier-Key, a history and political science professor at Nassau Community College, as well as the director of the Eastville Community Historial Society in Sag Harbor, called on white people in the crowd to do more than protest.
“Stop hiding behind privilege … focus on humanity, focus on humility, focus on harmony,” she said.
After the march, participants gathered again in Steinbeck Park to hear community leaders speak about racism on the East End — from segregated schools to nondiverse neighborhoods — and the importance of the national movement to end police brutality.
At one point, a speaker asked protesters to raise their hand if they were under 30 — the crowd lit up with hands.