Hundreds of people turned out for a peaceful vigil supporting Black Lives Matter at Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick Wednesday night, calling for police accountability and a defunding of the NYPD.

The vigil was part of an ongoing series of protests and demonstrations that have followed the murder of unarmed black man, George Floyd, on May 25, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Protestors at the vigil filled the park and spilled out of the entranceways, holding signs appealing for racial justice and an end to a system that reinforces police brutality.

Senator Julia Salazar urges the crowd to fight to repeal section 50-a. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith.

Assemblywoman Maritza Davila emceed the vigil, detailing the history of Bushwick; and how the Latino and Black communities in her neighborhood were the backbone for decades during a time when it was often neglected by city officials and police, according to Davila.

Representative Nydia Velasquez addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish about racial justice. She said the Latino community would stand firmly with the Black community in the fight for equality.

State Senator Julia Salazar addressed the crowd around the urgent need to repeal section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law that deems “personnel records” of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the officers permission. This section, she said, was to blame for a lack of accountability in many police shootings and violations and their subsequent cover ups, as the public, including victims’ families, could not access any information.

Assembly woman Maritza Davila and council member Antonio Reynoso address the crowd. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith.

“Bushwick is Latino, Bushwick is Black, Bushwick is Afro-Latino. We will not accept discrimination from the police or anyone else in our community,” Salazar said.

“New York has some of the worst laws when it comes to accountability and transparency. Not just for officers but for public servants, all of us, and the public, all of you, deserve better. Our black neighbors deserve better.”

Opening with the chant, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso said the NYPD was born on racist principles: “You don’t have to be a racist to work in a racist institution.

“We’re not saying all cops are racist,” he said addressing police, “but we’re saying the institution you work for is killing black men.”

Asenhat Gomez. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Reynoso said he would fight to defund the NYPD, and continue trying to get police away from homeless people and out of education, adding, the school to prison pipeline was real, with more cops in New York City schools than guidance counselors.

“This is our community, we believe in the rights of everybody, Latinos, African-Americans, and we are here to demand justice, and we know that a thriving community knows justice and knows peace that’s what we demand today,” said Asenhat Gomez, a member of the leadership center El Puente.

“We have a right to be in the streets to demand justice and to protest, but we need to do it in a peaceful way because violence doesn’t justify violence.”

Brooklyn resident Hanief Dykes said he attended the vigil and other protests to have his voice heard and fight for change.

“Enough is enough. If I can use my voice to make a change I’m going to use my voice; if I can use my voice to get my friends to come out here and make a change, I’m going to use my voice. Black lives matter, and I just want to voice that to everybody,” he said. “I just want to give love because now is the time for love.”

Hanief Dykes and Mellany Heras were handing out free water at the vigil. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Dykes’ friend Mellany Heras was at the vigil to hand out free water and support in any way she could.

“For a Hispanic woman, I think it is important for the Hispanic community to come together with the black community and try to make peace and equality, because that’s what we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for black lives,” she said.

“It’s amazing to see so many people come together to fight for a huge cause that honestly we should have been working on for a long time, but with the death of George Floyd I think now people now realize this is something we need to face and need to try make changes in police policy, and I think with the way things are going they might actually change after a long time.”

Kayla Vargas leads the crowd yelling “say his name”. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Kayla Vargas, who stood front and center of the vigil yelling messages of support for the black community, George Floyd, and her Bushwick community, said she was there to make sure everyone’s voices were heard.

“This is tiring. This is frustrating. It’s over with. I’m done with it. I’m tired,” she said.

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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