On April 30, approximately 75 members of the North Bellport, New York, Long Island community held a rally and vigil at Frank P. Long Middle School to demand the closure of the nearby Brookhaven landfill. The action was organized by the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group with the Party for Socialism and Liberation in attendance.
The Brookhaven Landfill is scheduled to close in 2024, but the City of Brookhaven has offered no plan to deal with the “garbage crisis” Long Island faces after the landfill closes. The city also failed to acknowledge the overtly racist placement of the landfill to begin with.
History of environmental racism
The Brookhaven landfill was opened in 1974, directly north of North Bellport. North Bellport itself already had a history of blockbusting in the 1960s before the landfill opened: real estate agents used racist scare tactics to convince white residents to sell their property below market value, then resold these properties at a premium price to Black and Latino families seeking upward mobility.
Like nearly 80% of other landfills and incinerators in the United States, the Brookhaven landfill was placed near a low-income community of color. And this community has been dealing with the environmental consequences of the landfill ever since.
The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that North Bellport consistently ranks in the 80s-95sand percentile for the following indicators: fine particles, ozone, airborne diesel particles, risk of cancer linked to atmospheric toxic substances, respiratory risks, waste water discharge, as well as other environmental risks.
Frank P. Long Middle School – attended by over 500 4th and 5th graders and staffed by over 60 staff – is located half a mile from the Brookhaven Landfill. Students and staff have consistently complained about the smell, and 35 former school employees have developed cancer since 1998.
Community members demand reparations and environmental justice
BLARG activist and founding member Monique Fitzgerald spoke with Liberation News on how community members formed BLRG to raise awareness of the issue of environmental racism.
“We came together in the spring of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd,” Fitzgerald explained. “Many of us were activated to protect Black lives and in doing so, also felt it was urgent for us to protect Black, Indigenous and Latinx lives here where we are locally. Some of the things that have been plaguing our neighborhoods for decades are this landfill, so we’ve put a lot of our energy into figuring out how we can close the landfill once and for all.
Another founding member of BLARG, Abena Asare, spoke about BLARG’s vision for environmental justice.
“When you look at other islands around the world, they are generally at the forefront of litter issues,” Asare said. “But because of all kinds of aspects of Long Island history – racism, classism – they [local officials] were able to put their heads in the sand by forcing certain regions to sacrifice areas. So there needs to be a real investment in creating a different waste infrastructure that needs to engage in zero waste planning.
Asare clarified that the only viable solutions going forward require the involvement of community members.
“In terms of trying to make amends here: it’s a matter for the community,” she explained. “When you look at the fact that North Bellport specifically has the lowest life expectancy [on Long Island] and suffered physically and economically from being close to the landfill, if you even look at house prices in North Bellport compared to other areas, you see a huge difference. There must be directed investments to uplift and make this community whole. But exactly how that will be will depend on the conversation and direction of those most affected. »
Fitzgerald also echoed the city’s need for accountability.
“We need to pressure our local government to make sure this landfill is closed,” she said. “Not only closed, but cleaned. Not just cleaning up, but acknowledging the harm and harm done to this community and remedying it in the form of reparations and accountability.
‘Throw the dump! Enough is enough!’
The action began with a rally and vigil at Frank P. Long Middle School. Fitzgerald opened the rally by reminding attendees that the land they were on was stolen from the Unkechaug Tribe, acknowledging the continued importance of Native struggles on Long Island.
Following Fitzgerald, another BLARG organizer, Hannah Thomas, spoke about the stories of staff members who developed cancer during their employment. Of the 35 staff at Frank P. Long Middle School, 14 died due to health complications related to cancer. These figures do not reflect the continued exposure of students and staff. A minute of silence was observed for deceased staff members and for those who were put at risk in the future due to their exposure.
After the vigil, participants then marched through the streets of North Bellport from the school to Robert Rowley Park. Along the way, the demonstrators chanted: “Empty the landfill! Enough is enough! All I have to say is they don’t care about us!
When the walk arrived at the park, a drop-off time took place and food was provided for walkers and residents of North Bellport. Despite the very serious occasion of the day of action, an accord of joy and community rang out as people came together for a common struggle.
Capitalist Waste and Environmental Racism
Organizers acknowledged there was a lot of work to be done to ensure the Brookhaven landfill is closed by 2024 and that repairs are delivered to North Bellport following the environmental damage caused by the landfill. But the community was determined to continue the fight.
As BLRG members explained to Release Newsthey situated this struggle against landfill within global struggles against environmental racism and capitalist mismanagement of waste.
“The Brookhaven landfill needs to close,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want to move our problems to the next landfill miles and miles away. We stand in solidarity with all communities like ours that suffer near a landfill or some type of waste infrastructure.