Around 7:30 p.m. Thursday, I stood atop the Long Island Rail Road trestle in Merrick, looking out on the sea of people who filled Sunrise Highway as far as I could see, east and west. Officials later estimated the number of demonstrators who attended the Black Lives Matter protest at 3,000 to 4,000.
The next morning, I tried to imagine Sunrise Highway with 20 million people. Would they even fit along its 120.6 miles?
Twenty million was the number of Twitter users who had, as of Friday morning, viewed a 15-second video I shot of 7-year-old Wynta-Amor Rogers, of Uniondale, marching beside her mother, Lakyia Jackson, at a different Black Lives Matter protest through Merrick and Bellmore, on Wednesday.
In the video, taken around 6:30 p.m., Wynta-Amor chants with the protesters, “No justice, no peace!”
Many among the thousands who commented on the post described Wynta-Amor as “fierce.” Yes, she was. Her hands moved to the beat of the chant. Her fingers pointed furiously. At the end, she raised her fist, seemingly in anger. Her fiery spirit was evident in her eyes.
Wynta-Amor, it appeared, had fully internalized the emotion of the moment. She was breathing it in, living it.
I was live-tweeting the protest to chronicle it for the Heralds. When I posted the video, I never imagined it would go viral. By the time the protest ended two hours later, 25,000 people had viewed it. By midnight, a million had. Thirty-six hours later, 20.2 million, and counting. People from all parts of the globe viewed it.
In effect, this little girl broadcast a central message of Black Lives Matter for all in the Twittersphere to see: We must have justice to find the lasting peace our society seeks.
Later on Wednesday, Wynta-Amor’s mom tweeted to thank me for the support that day. “We have to show our kids the right way,” Jackson said.
“Yes, Wynta-Amor,” she added, “mommy will help make your future better and all the rest of the kids in the world.”
Thursday morning, my wife said she went to bed the night before with Wynta-Amor’s words ringing in her ears. She couldn’t escape them.
There was a certain melody to them, a righteous power.
Wynta-Amor wasn’t the only one whose passion you could feel that afternoon. There were also 21-year-old Adriana Brutus, of Elmont, and her 24-year-old brother, Matt, who are black. They gave impassioned speeches at the Merrick Long Island Rail Road station, about a half-hour before I took the video of Wynta-Amor. “I’m scared every time I come outside," Adriana said through tears.
Her words left me thunderstruck.
As it happened, I later learned, Adriana had been communicating via Instagram with my own 20-year-old daughter, Alexandra. They’re both NYU students. Adriana is studying nursing, and Alexandra, business and technology management.
Why must Adriana be afraid all the time? I thought. What sort of society do we live in that she must worry for her life because of her color? My daughter has never felt that level of fear, nor has my 17-year-old son, Andrew.
As black people, Matt Brutus said, “We can’t buy property. They redline us. They say you have to go to school here.”
BLM protesters aren’t saying they want to take anything from white people. They’re just saying they want an equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — but that’s hard, if not impossible, for them when racism seems woven into the institutional fabric of our nation.
A number of Merrick and Bellmore residents stood on their stoops and on street corners applauding the protesters on Wednesday and Thursday. They cheered and banged on pots.
Now and again, though, someone called out, “All lives matter!” Sometimes the protesters ignored those shouts. Sometimes they chanted, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” louder and louder.
The all-lives-matter folks just don’t get it. The BLM protesters aren’t saying black people’s lives matter more than anyone else’s. What they’re saying is, in the eyes of a society with a centuries-old history of systemic racism, black lives have never mattered as much as white lives — but they should. They must, if we are to live in harmony with one another.
To chant “Black lives matter!” is to affirm that the lives of black people do, in fact, matter. White people don’t have to proclaim their lives matter because they already do, according to society.
In the past, a black man could die by noose because he looked the wrong way at a white woman. The George Floyd case, a number of pundits have said, is a modern-day lynching, captured for all to witness on cellphone video. The question is, what will each of us do about it?