A small, but vocal group gathered for the “Black Lives STILL Matter” rally and march in Southampton Village Saturday afternoon, just several hours after a “Back the Blue Rally” was held in the same spot. Both were peaceful, though the first rally brought more people with about 300 taking part.
Willie Jenkins, one of the organizers, took note of the smaller crowd that came together in Agawam Park Saturday at 4 p.m. When protests began on the East End in June after George Floyd’s death, there were 1,000 people in attendance. “Now, probably 50 people,” he said looking around in the park (though there were about double that in the march).
“It does not matter,” Jenkins, a Bridgehampton native, continued. “I don’t care if it’s just two of us. The extra voice is enough. Use your voice. If you have privilege, use your privilege.”
Over a loudspeaker, Jenkins thanked the police officers nearby and the group gave them round of applause. Later, he went up and spoke directly with officers to thank them. “We appreciate you. We appreciate you when you do your job right,” he said. “But we’re going to speak up when your job isn’t done right.”
Lisa Votino of Southampton, who organized the rally with Jenkins, thanked “every body for coming out here on Saturday of Labor Day weekend when we could all be doing other things even in the pandemic.”
She explained what led up to the rally by recapping a disturbing experience when she attended a ‘Back the Blue’ rally in western Suffolk. It was in juxtaposition to the Black Lives Matter protests that had been held on the East End, where there were no complaints from organizers, protestors and law enforcement.
“It really begged the question, why do people feel there needs to be a ‘Back the Blue’ rally out here? We were concerned, we were very concerned. That’s how today started,”she said. “You sent a message to our community that when there’s an element of possible hate in our community that we will step up.”
Police shut down the streets in the heart of the business district, just as they had done for the ‘Back the Blue Rally’ earlier in the day. Holding “Black Lives Matter” flags and signs calling for unity and equality, the group marched and chanted phases like, “Whose flag? Our flag.”
Trevon Jenkins, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and another community activist, urged young people to vote. “There’s no more just sitting in the house complaining without voting,” said Jenkins, who has no relation to Willie Jenkins. A voter registration table was set up in the park.
“What we all need to understand is, this is not just a march for today. It is not a yesterday’s march and it is not just for show. This is to explain that all lives should be equal. But we’re not there as a country so we need to be there as a country,” he said. “The only thing that matters is black lives right now because they don’t matter to America. We don’t matter to America. It’s been shown over and over again. So that’s all the message is. There’s no politics. There’s no forget white people, forget police. That’s not what this is. We just want to matter as much as the next white citizen does.”
There was one detractor. An older man was caught on video, inaudibly, arguing with those who had gathered at the park in support of the march. One woman yelled at him, “Nobody is saying all lives don’t matter. Nobody!” A younger woman led him away from the group just as two officers on bicycles pulled up and rode near them as they walked out of the park.
Willie Jenkins could be heard over the loudspeaker saying, “It’s okay. Leave him alone. Don’t engage,” followed by, “You have a wonderful day, sir. We love you too.” He followed it up with “Black lives matter,” chants until the man was out of the park.
With reporting by Christine Heeren