Protesters on May 31 filled East Main Street where they took a knee to remember George Floyd and other African-Americans killed by police. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead was the scene of two very different but equally peaceful protests today, both called to condemn police violence against African-Americans following the death of an African-American Minneapolis man as he was being arrested by police on May 25.

A 1 o’clock gathering in Stotzky Park drew more than 100 people, many of whom shared personal stories.

At the 3 o’clock event, billed as a Black Lives Matter protest, drew about three times the number of people downtown. Protesters gathered on the riverfront then marched to Riverhead Town Hall and back, chanting things like, “No justice, no peace — no racist police.” Several times the crowd called out the names of more than 30 African-Americans killed by police in recent years. The march spanned more than 90 minutes.

The march was organized by Riverhead High School senior Anubia Exum, 18, and her 15-year-old sister, a freshman at the high school.

“We never thought there’d be this many people,” Anubia said. “We didn’t know if we’d have anybody show up besides the two of us.” She said they are not — and the march was not — affiliated with the Black Lives Matter organization. They called it a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest because it was “about black lives,” she said.

“People were on Facebook saying we were paid protesters,” she said, expressing disbelief.

Anubia was not shy about speaking to the large crowd. She picked up a bullhorn and exhorted those who gathered on the riverfront before the march to speak out and take action against racism. She led the march onto Peconic Avenue and then east on Main Street to Town Hall and back, chanting the whole time.

Eric Williams, who organized the “Enough is Enough” event in the park told the crowd in Stotzky Park, “I’ve had enough of seeing this continual pattern. It’s just enough. There’s no reason for this.”

The crowd in Stotzky Park gathered in a large circle around Williams, who spoke using a bullhorn.

“Everyone involved has to be held accountable,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, right is right and wrong is wrong.”

Williams denounced the recent violence and rioting in cities across the country in the days following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Three officers held the unarmed, handcuffed Floyd, 46, in a prone position on the pavement, while one officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, as Floyd pleaded with the cops to let him up because he couldn’t breathe and cried out for his mother. The entire incident was recorded by passersby using smart phones. The four officers involved have been terminated by the Minneapolis Police Department and the one who kneeled on Floyd’s knee has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Williams was the first of several speakers in Stotzky Park today, including representatives of the NAACP, the African-American Cultural and Educational Festival, the Butterfly Effect Project, the Riverhead Town Board, local ministries and community members.

Riverhead Town Police Det. Evelyn Hobson also addressed the crowd. As a mother and an African-American police officer, Hobson said, she “checks all the boxes.” She spoke about how she, like every other black parent of sons, has had to talk with them about interacting with police.

“What is justice?” Butterfly Effect Project Tijuana Fulford asked. She asked the crowd to reflect on a lot of questions surrounding the question of justice.

“What are we marching for? Why are we angry? What is justice? Where are you at the school board meetings, at the town hall meetings?” she asked the crowd.

“I don’t know how to tell my 5-foot, 10-and-a-half-inch, 220-pound son, that even though you’re my teddy bear, someone may see you and they may kill you because you smiled, because I didn’t raise my son to bow down to any man. My son is a young man — he will not be anybody’s boy, he will not be anybody’s house nigger. What is justice?” Fulford asked again.

Arthor Faber recalled being stopped by a deputy sheriff one morning at age 14 as he walked along Pulaski Street from a deli where he’d bought an egg sandwich and a can of Arizona iced tea, to his summer job at the town park.

“The sheriff decided he needed to know what was in that can,” Faber said. He told me to sit on the curb and he poured out the contents of the can. He said when he told his mother what happened, his mother, Karen, a Riverhead parking enforcement officer, told him to say nothing because they both worked for the town. He complied. He said he knows today how that long-ago incident might have ended differently if he objected to the deputy sheriff’s arbitrary show of power.

People need to get involved, Malyk Leonard, a 2011 Riverhead High School student who is now pursuing a doctoral degree in education, told the crowd at Stotzky Park. Speak out against racism, run for office, vote, he said. The time for sitting on the sidelines is over, he said, pointing to the activism of the 1960s, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.