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Diverse voices speak out

By Laylah Ametewee, Centereach High School,
Jayson Babcock, Westhampton Beach High School, and
Lycianne Pitts, New Explorations High School

While there is evidence of a racial divide on Long Island, the peaceful demonstrations seen on television regularly include blacks and whites, Hispanics, and Asians united in a struggle for justice.

According to Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” series about how real estate sales have driven segregated communities, Long Island is one of the most segregated suburbs in America, and Nassau County is the most segregated county among those in the United States with 1.2 million to 1.6 million residents. Nassau has about 1.4 million residents, Suffolk about 1.5 million.

Despite the segregation statistics, according to a Pew Research Center study published in June, attendance at racial justice demonstrations is quite diverse. About 46 percent of the demonstrators are white, 17 percent are black, 22 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian. Even so, people who attend demonstrations to protest racial injustice “are more likely to be nonwhite and younger than Americans overall,” according to the study.

Lisa Votino, right, is an organizer of protests, and her daughter Lily, left, goes to many of them along with her. CREDIT: Christine Zichittella-Heeren

Lisa Votino, a protest organizer from Southampton, sees it differently. “A lot of the protests I have been to usually tend to lean to majority white,” she said. “In Bridgehampton, it is a pretty diverse place, but you don’t really get to see that diversity all in one [place]. But when I looked out during a protest, I saw the Hamptons I know with diversity.” 

Votino, who is white, said she has been “doing Black Lives Matter stuff before Black Lives Matter was a thing. I always worked on civil rights and human rights issues, so I was working with mostly African-American and Caribbean-Americans. . . . Then, Eric Garner was killed, and that’s when I got more involved.” Garner, of Staten Island, was a black man who died in 2014 of a chokehold while in NYPD custody as he was being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on the street.

The presence of white demonstrators demanding justice is not unique to Long Island. There is even a Facebook group called Rednecks for Black Lives. The Facebook group is also connected with an organization called Southern Crossroads “a community project fighting for people, culture, and dignity of the South.” Southern Crossroads shares and promotes on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that despite “Southern values,” including the confederate flag and history of Jim Crow laws, they can fight against racial injustices and “build up a Southern culture to be proud of.”

A protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement took place in Port Jefferson on June 1. Photo by Laylah Ametewee

On Long Island, Tanish Lindsay, a Montauk resident who is an immigrant from Jamaica, has done more than just talk about the importance of unity — she organized a Love at the End demonstration to educate the local residents that racism exists on Long Island. Her goal, she said at a news conference on Tuesday, is to reach all of the organizations in New York “and get them all together.”

Lindsay said she  was approached by a man during a demonstration about her decision to say black lives matter, instead of all lives matter. “Well, I do believe all lives matter. That’s exactly why I’m out here protesting for black lives matter because black lives do matter. Just like your life. You know that. I know that. But does everyone know that black lives matter? Not really.”

Lindsay said her No. 1 goal is to bring Long Island together. She believes getting protesters to fight for one common cause is the only way to bring healing.

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Another of her goals is to encourage people everywhere to participate in demonstrations. If that were to happen, Lindsay said, “then we wouldn’t have the Hamptons, where it’s predominantly white,” she said.

According to the 2019 American Community Survey, a publication of the U.S. Census Bureau, 71 percent of Southampton Town is white, 66 percent of Hampton Bays residents are white, and 74.6 percent of East Hampton residents are white. 

Lindsay said there is no point at which she will stop pushing for justice. “If you’re fighting about equality, it just makes sense for everyone to work together.”

A diverse crowd was seen at a demonstration in Port Jefferson on June 1. Photo by Laylah Ametewee

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