GREENPORT, NY — As passionate protests over the murder of George Floyd continue across the nation, those who attend the gatherings — holding signs, chanting "I can't breathe," and some, lying in the street, hands behind their backs — are speaking out. Opening up to share their experiences with racism, about not just the hate-fueled acts that make headlines but the everyday cuts that run deep.
In a new series, Patch will speak to individuals about their personal memories, asking them about the first time they experienced racism or discrimination, how it has impacted their lives — and why they have decided that the time is now, to speak up and make a change.
These are their stories, the stories that for many years, were left untold.
Karre Brown, of Greenport, has been speaking out on social media about racism on the North Fork that she believes has existed for many years.
"My first experience with racism happened when I was eight years old. My cousin and I had gotten dropped off at a birthday party at a friend's house. When we knocked on the door, her grandmother said we couldn’t come in because we were black. So we walked back to my grandmother’s house, crying."
Most recently, Brown said, she was shopping in the summer of 2019 in Riverhead. "I was with my nieces, grocery shopping, and this man was trying to get through the aisle and he scratched my niece with his cart. I told him, 'You should say excuse me.' His wife came over and she was furious that I was even speaking to him. She grabbed my arm, telling me to shut up."
Her niece, Brown said, was terrified. "She thought I was going to be put in jail or killed. All I could think of was, 'I can't call the police. I don't have that right. If I call, the police are going to question me. I told her, 'Get your hands off of me.'"
Systemic racism is not new, Brown said.
"The state that we are in, we're desperate," she said. "We need our white friends, in all areas of our lives. If you are a doctor, a nurse, if you work in the food industry or law enforcement — we need your help to change this system."
And, Brown said, in her opinion, the media is not blameless.
"We need the media to stop painting us as the bad people. There are stereotypes and oftentimes, the media does not help, showing only one point of the story, always leaning toward the police officers, the courts, and the judge. We never get our side told. That is completely unfair and disrespectful and it broadens the gap between the community and the police."
Police, Brown said, "are always saying they want to have conversations. When do those conversations even happen?"
When told that Southold Town Police and the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force host a "Synergy" event every year to foster dialogue with residents and police, Brown asked: "How many black people are there?" The black community, she said, does "not trust" local police. "They discriminate and they harass people of color," she said. "We are not treated the same."
She added that while many feel the same way that she does about "deep-rooted" racism, others might be afraid to raise their voices: "At this point in life, I can't be afraid. I don't have the time to worry about going to jail. They're putting us in jail, anyway. I don't have the time to be afraid. We're dying, anyway," she said. "The odds are already stacked against me. What is there for me to lose?"
Of the local police on the East End, Brown said: "They are not here to protect me. I would rather die than call them to protect me. That's how so many of us feel — not just black people but the Hispanic community, too. They can't just call the police."
Brown pointed to the coronavirus and the disproportionate number of cases among communities of color and said despite health concerns, many in those communities are afraid to seek help.
"If we want this to change, every single person has to help"
In order to truly bridge the racial divide, Brown said: "Every single person has to help. We have to dismantle this system from the top down."
Brown called out for a complete investigation of law enforcement; she maintained that black individuals are often not treated fairly and said she feels racism is rife in the judicial system.
Brown maintains that there is a reason why law enforcement spends "millions on lawsuits" every year. "Everyone is anticipating that there is going to be police brutality," she said.
She called out for body cams for police officers and videocameras in all police vehicles.
Brown, who is pregnant and home on bed rest, is not able to attend every rally popping up on the East End. But she is raising her voice to speak out because, she believes, the time is now.
"Enough is enough," she said.
Even social media is rife with anger, she said. "Every time you challenge someone or ask a person a question, they get defensive, like I'm trying to attack them. What's wrong with asking questions? If I don't ask questions, how will I know?"
Looking forward, Brown is crying out for transparency. Transparency, she said, with "everything that has to do with black people. I love being black. I won't apologize for it. I don't want people to expect me to apologize and I don't care about people's opinion about my being black."
She added: "I love who I am, and I love that my daughter is going to be black."
Of her unborn baby, Brown said: "I don't want this world for her. But right now, all this is necessary."
Patch wants to hear from everyone about their stance on the racial tensions dividing the nation. From first responders to educators, moms and dads, students and anti-bias advocates, elected officials, members of law enforcement and the business community. To share your story with Patch about discrimination or racism, email Lisa.Finn@patch.com.