In a social justice movement marked by thousands of attendees, Leon Goodman, of Bay Shore, sought to make a difference as a lone soldier in the fight against systemic racism with his one-man, silent protest march from the 59th Street Bridge in Manhattan to the Montauk Lighthouse.
Clad in all black with a shirt bearing the words “I can’t breathe,” and a baseball cap affirming “Black Lives Matter,” Leon Goodman, 69, pledged to walk 118 miles through the heart of Long Island to raise awareness of the plight of Black Americans against police brutality.
Goodman, in filmed messages to his would-be greeters along his walk, has repeated that his march is not against the police, but rather a protest against the brutality towards Black people and systemic racism found in police departments. “My protest is not anti-police,” said Goodman. “It is against acts of police brutality. There is a distinct difference.”
Walking along the South Shore, after consulting with both the Nassau and Suffolk police departments and elected officials’ offices on the safest route, Goodman has found supporters along the way.
Goodman, a retiree of the MTA whose human resources career has spanned over 30 years, took advantage of a perk of being an MTA retiree, namely that he could ride the LIRR gratis. As such, Goodman takes the train to his destination, walks 10 to 12 miles east daily, and goes back home each night to Bay Shore aboard the Montauk line.
Documenting the entire experience as an archivist would, Goodman posts photos, videos, and updates on his Facebook page of his journey, which has garnered him thousands of comments of support from neighboring towns.
“I was sitting home and watching the demonstrations for Breonna Taylor. I watched the demonstrations for George Floyd. I’m totally familiar with Tamir Rice, who was 12 years old and killed within five seconds of the police arriving. I watched the video of Jacob Blake. It just bothered me to no end,” said Goodman. “But what really bothered me was that no one seemed to be able to give the message of the demonstrators because their message was being determined by the interpretation of people not necessarily in agreement. It became about violence, riots, looters.”
Determined to be heard, Goodman paradoxically uses silence to convey his message, as he was “taught by [his] mother and grandmother that silence is deafening.”
Walking through Forest Hills on Queens Boulevard, there was a health fair where someone gave Goodman a mask, as he had given his mask to a homeless man earlier in his walk. After telling the health fair worker about his intended journey, the Black woman cried and said, “I have two sons; every time they go out at night, I worry they won’t come back.”
The story is typical of the travels that Goodman has had, where members of the Black community have praised him for his efforts, many times, thinking of their own children. The personal fear hits close to home for Goodman, who said, “I have three grandchildren that range from the ages of 27—and that’s important—to 21. I wanted to make emphasis of the 27-year-old because that is the same age as Breonna Taylor, so that could have been my granddaughter.”
Goodman is steadfast that he does not believe he will convince everyone he encounters of the movement’s tenets, but insists, “Let’s have the conversation.”
In another story, while in Seaford, a cyclist came up to Goodman and said, “I am so sorry for what’s happened to you,” and offered him money. Goodman politely declined and urged the cyclist to donate the money to a social justice organization to help the cause.
But this instance brought to light that more needs to done in terms of awareness of the issues facing Black Americans and the police force, as at the end of the conversation with the sympathetic cyclist, he told Goodman, “If only they had complied, they would be alive.” Goodman countered with the arrest of Dylann Roof, the white shooter of the Charleston Church massacre in June 2015, who was fully armed when arrested, was then taken to Burger King following his arrest by the Shelby police, to point out the disparity of treatment.
Plans may change according to the weather, but Goodman plans to complete his march to the Montauk Lighthouse by Oct. 16.