Other than the occasional outing to go shopping, Dariella Rodriguez had kept herself quarantined at home since the coronavirus outbreak began to surge in March. But when she began receiving despairing emails from young people she has mentored in recent years, requesting guidance in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer, she knew the quarantine had to take secondary status.
Rodriguez, director of community development at The Point CDC, has been working from her home in the borough’s West Farms section, heeding advisories from state and city government to stay put while Covid-19 rages.
Eager for an outlet to show solidarity with protesters nationwide, and to prove to the outside world that painting the Bronx with a broad and negative brushstroke after the looting in Fordham Heights is wrong, they insisted on finding a platform.
“The biggest question was ‘where do I go?’” said Rodriguez, as the protest was being organized. “We want to keep them off the subways. We don’t want to accelerate the risk” from Covid-19.
But she and other local organizers decided to assemble young people from The Point CDC and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice’s advocacy programs, along with bikers and skaters, to seek the catharsis they craved.
“This is the most uncertainty I’ve ever felt in all the years I’ve been doing this,” said Rodriguez, nervous about the looming prospect of clashes with police. Earlier in the week, groups looted in the Fordham neighborhood, using peaceful protests as camouflage to wreak havoc and steal merchandise, inciting such confrontations.
But despite the risks, she had to do it. If nothing else, for the sake of overseeing the event to keep the young people safe.
“I got text messages from kids’ moms saying ‘I’m trusting you with our baby.’”
Some 500 peaceful protesters assembled at Monsignor del Valle Square in front of the 6 train station on Hunts Point Avenue around 4 p.m. on June 3, with about a dozen Hunts Point residents taking the bullhorn to encourage their neighbors and help keep alive the momentum that has been established nationally. Later the throng marched to Concrete Plant Park before dispersing.
Leonardo Polanco Jr., 19, a community organizer for both The Point and Youth Ministries for several years and a graduate of Cardinal Hayes High School, has worked as a chef at Bascom Catering at The Point.
Polanco informed several friends about the rally at Monsignor del Valle Square and brought them with him.
“It was refreshing, and we need a lot more of this in the community,” he said. “To come together and be vulnerable. What happened in Minneapolis was just one of the reasons why we’re being brought together and the healing process is beginning.”
The most impactful moment of the rally for Polanco happened when a resident took the bullhorn in the square and announced to the hundreds who had assembled that he was a gang member, but that he stood shoulder to shoulder with them.
“He was speaking from the heart. It was very powerful. He’s doing what he has to do to survive,” said Polanco then contemplatively adding, “even if it’s illegal.”
Most importantly, the self-reflection brought about by taking personal risks to protest peacefully in large numbers during the heat of a pandemic means “we’re not just reacting. It brought back camaraderie that’s been missing for a long time because of petty squabbles. Dumb stuff.”
For Ninoshka Rodriguez, who took the 5 train from Bronxdale to the Simpson Street stop to attend the rally and show support, traveling during Covid is nothing new. As a pet adoption counselor at a Harlem animal shelter, “Nino” is considered an essential worker, and hence more accustomed than most to making her way around the ghost town that the coronavirus has turned New York City into. She had high hopes of attending the rallies on 14th Street in Manhattan, but then opted for the Hunts Point rally instead.
“We live in the Bronx,” she said, so she and her boyfriend Anthony, who volunteers in Hunts Point, kept their energies local.
Nino said she had no worries about attending a rally, despite the publicity that the Fordham looting has generated.
“At the end of the day, we were protesting, not looting,” she said. “We’re trying to go to as many of these protests as we can.”