We Need to Talk About Intolerance in Great Neck.

Reactions to Great Neck’s BLM protest reveal the increasing need to open the conversation on intolerance in the community.

“You all need to listen because, for many, it is hard to speak against what your community believes,” said Bryanna Sosa, a sophomore at North High, as she stood on a bench facing a crowd of approximately 700 protesters gathered during a peaceful anti-racism rally Sunday, June 7 in John L. Ielpi Firefighters Park. Though the rally had been peaceful, the reaction from the community to its organization, specifically within Great Neck Facebook groups, was arguably not. 

Great Neck protesters stand in the Village Green after marching from John L. Ielpi Firefighters Park. Law and Chan argue that the reaction to the protest’s organization from some community members is indicative of intolerance in Great Neck. (Credit: Kirsten Law)

The protest organized by Great Neck high school students was one of many in Long Island and across the world that have quickly ensued after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who spent his final moments wedged between a city street and the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, unable to breathe. 

“I will be there and I will be filming to see who is with them and I will publicly shame them,” was posted by a local resident on a Great Neck community webpage two days prior to the protest. 

The same resident had made a post earlier expressing her concern and a sense of urgency for “Great Neck [to] wake up” as “BLM terrorists are coming to Great Neck on Sunday” and for people to “Look at the rocks already waiting for destruction.” In reality, the rocks pictured in the post were being used in construction at the Great Neck LIRR Station which had been ongoing for several months.

This resident, however, was not alone in her beliefs and negative feelings. Her post was followed by a thread of comments and alongside similar posts in support.

It is not their beliefs that are of concern; individuals should be free to believe as they please, and it is valid to express fears about violent breakouts. What is disheartening is the extent to which they were going to go— to use threats and misinformation— in order to induce fear and stifle the voices of the young protestors. 

And yet, such intolerant sentiments are not new. 

Nearly two years ago, video footage surfaced of two Great Neck women, one of which appeared to be this same resident, yelling vicious racial and transphobic slurs for several minutes at a street fair, shouting “No transgenders to Great Neck. Take that sh*t to China” while holding up an image of Great Neck library trustee candidate Mimi Hu. 

One of the two Great Neck women yells racist and transphobic remarks directed toward Great Neck Library trustee candidate Mimi Hu while giving her the finger at a street festival on October 21, 2018. Hu was confronted and stalked by these two woman while walking through the street festival and Autofest in Great Neck Plaza with her six-year-old son, having only moments earlier been verbally attacked in a Starbucks. (Credit: Great Neck Record)

Though these comments were condemned by the Great Neck community, most notably Republican candidates for Congress Elaine Phillips and Dan DeBono, these instances highlight the importance of instilling values of tolerance in ourselves and our youth.

The incident appeared in both local and national news. Yet, there had been little effort to discuss or converse about the event in schools despite the fact that there may have been Chinese Americans and transgender individuals who were deeply affected by it, feeling unsafe in their own community.

In fact, there has been a recent rise in Instagram accounts offering a platform for Great Neck teens to share their experiences with hate speech. 

One account labeled “exposing_greatneck,”  before being shut down, worked to essentially expose instances of racism in the community, specifically by North High students. Another, currently active account called, “shine_a_light_greatneck” offers an anonymous platform where Great Neck students can share their experiences with transphobia, homophobia, racism, and any other experiences of bullying. 

The emergence of these accounts serves as evidence that change needs to occur as there are some students who fear that they are being targeted. The very fact that an account needs to expose hate speech for us to open discussion about it, means that greater effort needs to be put into addressing this controversial issue, whether it be through schools or at home.

At this time, these accounts only scratch the surface. These are instances that have been reported. There are certainly more individuals who have experienced bigotry and discrimination. They should be encouraged and empowered to speak out. 

Great Neck is a community that prides itself on its education system, yet simultaneously fails to educate its children to tolerate opinions that are different from their own. Intolerant sentiments are manifested in hate speech and cyberbullying among Great Neck’s residents and school community. Until a greater effort is made to be more accepting of others’ differences, Great Neck will remain only an illusion of safety as hate festers in online forums and social media posts.