“It’s every mother’s nightmare.”
That’s how Tanya Dawson described the way she felt when she received a FaceTime call from her distressed daughter, Nia Dawson, on August 27, letting her know she was being harassed by Sag Harbor Launderette owner William A. Tabert on Main Street in Sag Harbor while doing her laundry, with her 11-year-old brother by her side. In previous reporting on the incident, Nia Dawson said it was immediately clear to her that she was being targeted because she was Black.
On Saturday, Tanya Dawson recounted details of that day while standing in front of the launderette, speaking into a megaphone to address a crowd of roughly 30 or more people that had gathered as part of a peaceful protest organized by Exposing Inequities in the Hamptons — which goes by the abbreviation EIITH — and describes itself on its website as a group of “passionate and driven” community members with a common goal to “uproot discrimination and inequities while changing the narratives that have held the East End African-American community in bondage for far too long.”
In a widely viewed and shared post that she uploaded to Facebook on August 28, Nia Dawson explained how, on August 27, she had been sitting on a bench outside the laundromat with her brother eating ice cream while they waited for their laundry cycle to finish. Tabert came outside and asked if he could sit with them on the bench, a request she said she politely declined because they were trying to maintain social distance, keeping in mind that her brother was too young to be vaccinated. That angered Tabert, she said, and he became hostile and aggressive toward them, blocking the entryway to the laundromat and trying to force them to go in through the back. At one point, she said, Tabert shoved her when she tried to enter the building to retrieve her clothes, and she called the police, who charged him with harassment in the second degree, a violation.
Nia Dawson remained on the FaceTime call with her mother, sister and aunt because she was fearful of how the situation would escalate. Tabert later apologized, but the family and other community members made it clear on Saturday that the damage was done and that it would take more than an apology to make things right.
The protest was also intended to establish that what Dawson experienced in her confrontation with Tabert was not an isolated incident — attendees said that racially motivated harassment and confrontations are not as infrequent as some community members may believe.
“You’d be surprised by how many people have spoken out just because we spoke out,” said Eddie Dawson, Nia Dawson’s father, moments after both he and his wife separately addressed the crowd. “We’ve had about six to eight people who have come out and spoken about a situation like this happening to them maybe two or three years ago … But if nobody says anything, who’s going to hear it? When you’re in it, and you start saying stuff, then everyone else will have a voice as well.”
Nia Dawson’s aunt, Latisha Pinckney, was on the FaceTime call that day in August and was at the protest as well, standing in all black, next to her sister, Tanya Dawson, as she addressed the crowd, holding a sign with the organization’s name and website. She was surrounded by others — also dressed in black and wearing shirts with the organization’s name and logo — in what was a diverse crowd of both Black and white protesters, holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” and “White Silence Kills” among other messages and slogans.
She was emotional when recounting her memories of that day, and speaking about why the protest was necessary.
“When I got that call, my heart just stopped,” she said, referring to the FaceTime conversation on August 27. “I live about six minutes down the road, and I probably got there in three.”
Pinckney said the following weekend after her niece and nephew’s confrontation with Tabert, she experienced something similar, listening to a stranger refer to her with the “n word” when he was waiting behind her to get off a Hampton Jitney. He used the slur while expressing his impatience with the time it was taking to get off the bus, after Pinckney said she had paused to let the person in front of her gather belongings and get off the bus.
“I had my 15-year-old niece with me,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking that stuff like this still happens. But I’m here today in support of my niece Nia and nephew Eddie.”
In her Facebook post, Nia Dawson — who was not in attendance at the protest — touched on the emotional distress that the incident caused her, and her mother spoke about that Saturday as well, sharing that she’s spent many nights listening to her son “crying nonstop” asking “why would that strange white man try to hurt his sister?”
Tanya Dawson said she was proud of her daughter for speaking up.
“I applaud her for using her voice and having the courage to stand up and tell her story,” she said.
In her speech, Dawson also took the opportunity to express that she was glad to see several white faces in the group of protesters, and called for more diversity in other areas as well. She said she was thankful for the support that the Bridgehampton School — where her son attends — had provided, but pointed out that despite the best intentions, sometimes a lack of diversity in staff means that schools and other organizations can’t always provide the specific kind of support a student who experiences racial discrimination may need.
“My son is an 11-year-old Black man,” she said. “What will a white male counselor do for my son when he’s facing a problem like this? We need more people that look like our kids.”
Eddie Dawson said the protest is the starting point for a movement in the community, and he added that it was heartening to see people come out in support.
“It’s overwhelming, just to have the amount of people coming out and showing support and standing with us,” he said. “But it’s definitely needed. It’s a movement we’re starting, and everything takes a little time, but as I said in my speech, many hands make light work, and the more people that help, it makes our workload a lot easier, and we’re able to dig into this a bit deeper.
“We’re asking the community for support and for others who have had these experiences to speak up,” he added. “Because we’re all in this together.”