Sabba Park in Woodside was home to a tense but peaceful standoff between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protesters on Saturday, Aug. 22.
About 100 Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered in John Vincent Daniels Jr. Square, below the 52 Street – Lincoln Avenue subway station along the 7 train line, around 10 a.m. The demonstration was assembled after organizers heard about the pro-police march, which was scheduled to gather at 39th Street and Greenpoint Avenue at 11 a.m.
Black Lives Matter protesters and Blue Lives Matter protesters have clashed several times in Queens over the past several months. On July 12, a pro-police group and a Black Lives Matter group met violently in Crocheron Park. In addition to trading verbal insults, an assault, in which a pro-police protester hit a Black Lives Matter supporter, was captured on video. Saturday’s meeting of the groups in Woodside, though tense at times, did not turn violent and no arrests were made.
For the Black Lives Matter organizers, Saturday’s demonstration was about education.
“We want to educate [pro-police supporters] on what over-policing is, on what the policies are,” said Jessica, a Black Lives Matter organizer who requested her last name be withheld for safety reasons. “I think it’s a great attempt. I really hope it has some sort of bearing on the crowd that’s coming.”
Grace Frutos, a Black Lives Matter organizer from Sunnyside, said her hope was to not necessarily change the minds of her ideological opponents but to instead “plant the seed,” and encourage them to do research on their own.
“Our group is moving from protesting every day in all the five boroughs, to more community workshop kind of events with the understanding that it’s really about educating the community,” Frutos said. “Once they realize what sort of oppressive system they’re supporting, we know they’ll come to our side.”
About a mile away, around 100 Blue Lives Matter demonstrators lined the sidewalk of Greenpoint Avenue near the intersection of Greenpoint and 39th Street.
While many demonstrators had come out on the late summer weekend to show support for the 108th Precinct, others were there to see how the clash would play out.
“It’s in my neighborhood. It’s Saturday,” said Jay Gold, who marched with the Blue Lives Matter group. Gold added that he believed that defunding the police, a major tenet of the Black Lives Matter movement, is “absolutely ridiculous.”
A couple marching with the group who requested their names be withheld for safety reasons, agreed.
“The police are necessary and part of being in a city that’s safe,” they said. “We feel the rhetoric and the message has been lost.”
Flanked by countless police officers and trailed by at least eight police cars, the Blue Lives Matter group, which was primarily comprised of older, white people, began to march northeast around 11:05 a.m.
As the Blue Lives Matter group marched, Sunnyside residents shared mixed reactions to the demonstration.
“People have freedom of speech,” said Marconi Alexandria, who watched the march from the sidewalk. “I actually thought there would be more people.”
Others found the march offensive, including two women eating lunch outdoors as the marchers walked by.
“It’s embarrassing,” said June Choi. “There are a lot of minorities in the neighborhood and this march is so disrespectful.”
The Blue Lives Matter march arrived at Sabba Park around 11:30 a.m., to find the Black Lives Matter group, which was a younger, more diverse coalition of supporters, already there and assembled.
Sitting on the ground, blocking the most direct route to the center of the park, demonstrators held signs reading “Please Google ‘over-policing’” and “Black people are saying stop killing us, y’all saying, ‘but.’”
For about a minute, the two groups stood opposed to each other in silence. Slowly, pro-police demonstrations began walking on the outskirts of the park, an area that Black Lives Matter protesters had not blocked.
The two groups silently melded into one in the center of Sabba Park a few minutes later. Black Lives Matter protesters stood next to Blue Lives Matter protesters until leaders of the pro-police group began to speak.
“My wish today is that you see some of these officers protecting both sides, see them for who they are,” one of the pro-police organizers said. “I hope that both sides realize that we’re all human.”
All was calm until Councilman Robert Holden, who voted against the city’s June budget because of cuts made to the NYPD, took the mic.
A Black Lives Matter protester blasted a police siren through their bullhorn when Holden began his remarks.
“[The Black Lives Matter protesters] haven’t lived through the bad times of New York City,” Holden said. “We have and we have to back the blue.”
At one point, Black Lives Matter demonstrators began to play speeches by famous Black racial justice fighters, including Malcom X.
As a Blue Lives Matter demonstrator spoke about the dangers of defunding the police, a recording of Gil Scott-Heron could be heard asking, “Who will survive in America?” The competing speeches drowned each other out.
About 40 minutes after arriving, pro-police supporters began to leave. The NYPD officers who had escorted them to Sabba Park remained, as did the Black Lives Matter protesters.
Once the park was theirs, Black Lives Matter protesters began to chant, give speeches and hold a four-minute meditation. With about 30 police officers lined on the outside of the park, organizers asked them their reason for being there.
“If you’re going to keep us in this park, at least learn what we are fighting for,” one of the organizers said through a bullhorn.
Around 1:15 p.m., Black Lives Matter protesters departed Sabba Park to head back to John Vincent Daniels Jr. Square where the demonstration would end.
Sabba Park was nearly empty by 1:30 p.m., save for three Black Lives Matter organizers and an NYPD community affairs officer from the 108th Precinct. They had all stayed behind to share what brought them to the park on Saturday, what they were fighting for.
As people from the neighborhood returned to the park to eat their lunches and spend time outside, the four men continued their conversation.