A Black Lives Matter rally at Five Corners blocked traffic at Five Corners for between 10 and 15 minutes Sunday morning, Tisbury Police Sgt. Max Sherman told The Times.
Police were aware of the rally, which started at about 10 am, but were taken by surprise when protesters went into the street and blocked cars from moving through the busy intersection at about 11:30 am, Sherman said.
Eugene Langston-Jemison, who helped organize the peaceful protest, said initially an officer told them to get out of the street, but eventually police allowed them to stay in the road.
“Things went down better than expected,” Langston-Jemison said. “The officers just pretty much let what happened happen.”
A video of the rally showed a handful of protesters in the center of the intersection blocking traffic and chanting, “Black lives matter,” and then “No justice, no peace.” At one point, a blue Toyota RAV4 inched forward, but the protesters didn’t budge.
Langston-Jemison said some of the drivers blocked from moving by the protest were unhappy with the protesters. He said he felt for one woman who breastfeeds her children and had two crying babies on her hands, but he made no apologies for the actions taken by the group of protesters.
“We were giving attention that we’re dying in the streets every day,” he said. “People come to Martha’s Vineyard to get away and relax. I want them to see that because you’re here relaxing doesn’t mean we’re not dying. I want them to see that because you’re here doesn’t mean we’re not getting shot by police officers. I want them to see that because you’re here relaxing doesn’t mean that systemic racism isn’t out there.”
Sherman praised the way officers handled the situation. He confirmed that an up-Island ambulance had to be diverted to Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to go to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He added that if it had been a high-level emergency, police would have removed protesters from the streets to allow traffic to flow through Five Corners.
Traffic was diverted coming from the Steamship Authority up Union Street through town, and traffic coming from Oak Bluffs was detoured toward Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.
Sherman reported some pushback from people stuck in the traffic, but nothing too serious. “Our job was to make sure everybody was safe,” he said.
The decision to stand in the road and block traffic has gotten some significant pushback on social media. People who say they support the movement, including one woman who was there holding a sign earlier, are disappointed in the decision to block traffic — potentially making people miss ferries.
Langston-Jemison made no apologies. “I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry because it’s inconvenient for you that I want to live,” he said. “I want my son to live. I want my son to grow. I want my son to die of natural causes.”
He suggested people who are saying they support the movement, but not blocking traffic maybe aren’t true supporters.
Langston-Jemison has been a regular at rallies across the Island. He’s stood alone on occasion at Five Corners, where he’s said that two women have come out during their lunch break and joined him. “That right there is love.”