Protesters march in Coney Island against police brutality

Coney Island residents took to the neighborhood’s famed boardwalk on June 12 to join in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and call for police reform.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

A few hundred protesters gathered in Coney Island on June 12 to march against police brutality — saying that they frequently witness cops along the People’s Playground use excessive force. 

“The police, they have a tendency to abuse their authority,” said Coney Islander Justin Sterling, a member of a local charitable group called Good Brotha, who said he’s experienced unfair policing himself. “Being stopped [when I’m] not doing nothing, at times going to work.”

Community members pass Deno’s Wonder Wheel as they march across the boardwalk in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Marchers — led by local officials and several neighborhood groups — met for a rally at Asser Levy Park before heading to the Riegelmann Boardwalk and marching down to W. 30th Street. Attendees carried signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and chanted George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s names as they marched.

The Friday afternoon protest — the first as of late in the southern Brooklyn community — comes on the heels of countless demonstrations citywide, and mirrored those taking place across the globe in wake of Floyd’s killing. Most attendees were residents of Coney Island, a largely Black community, who said that they are fed up with the police department’s treatment of Black people. 

Protesters kneel and raise their fists in the middle of Mermaid Avenue.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“Coney Island, they don’t stand up themselves, that’s why I put up a poster. Everybody needs to be out here,” said resident Monique Thompson, adding that the police killing of George Floyd resonated throughout the community. “This happened in Minneapolis, but you felt that pain right here in Coney Island.” 

Just two weeks ago, Thompson said her daughter was violently stopped on the peninsula for failing to adequately social distance herself. 

Two women hold hands in Asser Levy Park.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“About 50 police officers jumped on my daughter,” she said. “There’s too much excessive force going on and it has to stop.” 

Throughout the protest, leaders chanted, “More neighbors, less strangers” — a call for Coney Islanders to overcome their ethnic divisions to denounce police violence, according to the protest’s lead organizer. 

“I was hurt that my community is so divided that we would sit back and allow this momentum to continue and not add fuel onto it,” said Moses Sesay, a 29-year-old Sierra Leone native who grew up in Coney Island. “So when I did this there was only one goal for me, and it was to stop being strangers.” 

After marching across the Coney Island boardwalk and back, a group of protesters, led by Moses Sesay, center, meet at Asser Levy Park.Photo by Paul Frangipane

After turning onto W. 30th Street, protesters headed back to Asser Levy Park via Mermaid Avenue where organizers, local leaders, and elected officials spoke.

“We have been waiting for equal rights under the law for 400 years,” said Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus, who first spoke during the march on the boardwalk. “I’m so sorry that it took [George Floyd’s] death for people all around the world to now stand in unison and say that enough is enough.”

Protesters march from Mermaid Avenue to Asser Levy Park.

Area Councilman Mark Treyger, who also spoke, later called the demonstration “a beautiful mosaic of support from across Southern Brooklyn.” The former teacher credited Sesay, a Liberation High School graduate, for his leadership. “As a teacher, I always believed our young people will lead the way,” the pol tweeted.

During the rally, Sesay honored a 60th Precinct police officer and friend of the protesters with a gold medal. The gesture, he said, was meant to honor the officer’s commitment to enacting change within the department and encourage other anti-racist police officers to call out their racist co-workers.

“I wanted to honor that police officer for doing the right thing,” Sesay said. “To the good officers: recognize that these bad apples are dirtying the batch … We need these good officers to stand with us.”

Protesters make their way down Coney Island’s historic boardwalk.Photo by Paul Frangipane