“Today I’m here before you simply as a black man,” Assemblymember Clyde Vanel’s (D-Queens Village) voice boomed across Queens Boulevard. “Are we asking for anything extra? Anything super special? I want to be able to drive in my car and when I hear a police officer, not to feel afraid. Is that too much? I want to be able to go to Central Park and birdwatch. Is that too much? I want to be able to jog in my neighborhood and not be hunted and killed. Is that asking too much? I want to be able to breathe!”
Vanel, joined by various other elected officials, civic leaders and community activists, rallied for institutional change and an end to police brutality at the steps of Queen Borough Hall on June 4. The demonstration was just one of thousands that have erupted across the country, and even throughout the world, since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes during his arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
The crowd was peppered with individuals of varying skin tones and ages, including two children holding “Black Lives Matter” signs beneath the elected officials as they spoke. One child shouted, “Justice! Peace!” before his father corrected him.
“It’s ‘No justice, no peace,’” he told the young boy, which sparked one of many chants.
“I’m a resident of Queens born and raised and my heart is deeply imbedded in the streets here, so to have our moment to come out and speak to say how we feel about it and to see all the different people, not just black men as ourselves, just to see the different diverse people here, it goes a very very long way,” Spence, an attendee, said, displaying a sign that said, “#BlackLivesMatter. “It makes the mission, the conversation, a little more likely, which is to have hope for chance. If different people can come together for this cause, then there’s hope for change.”
Another protester, Terrence, added, “There’s so much wrong that needs to be corrected. This gives you inspiration that things can go in a positive way because people are taking steps to do something that’s necessary.”
Other than calling for an end to police brutality, the protesters demanded the repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a, which prevents the public from accessing police, FDNY and correction officer records relating to alleged misconduct. Assembly Bill 2513, sponsored by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), and it’s Senate version S3695, sponsored by state Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), currently sit in the Governmental Operations and Codes Committees, respectively.
“Everyone is fed up. Everyone from the private citizen all the way on up to those in elected office, they’re hearing us, they’re seeing us and it’s now time,” said Bryan, a protester marching on behalf of the Chinese American Planning Council. Bryan lifted a “Asians For BLM” sign, which he had carried at the Black Lives Matter march in Bayside just a few days prior. “They’re here in support of us and the hope is that good comes out of this and all those packages and that the entire package and bills are signed by the governor so we can at least get some modicum of change that’s long overdue.”
Many of the protesters arrived to the rally from a 4-mile march that began in Cunningham Park, organized by state Sen. John Liu (D-Flushing).
“I’m not a black life,” Liu said. “It’s always a black life handcuffed, disabled, on the ground. That’s why we say Black Lives Matter over and over again. Those who say All Lives Matter — think about it, the only reason you say that is because we are saying Black Lives Matter. You should instead embrace and understand how the phrase Black Lives Matter came to be in the first place.”