More than 30 Long Island activist groups are uniting to press for local law enforcement reforms following the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin last week that has reignited months of nationwide protests over racism in the criminal justice system.
Organizers announced the new coalition, called Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety, at a 100-person rally at a Suffolk County government building in Hauppauge on Sunday.
Protesters criticized what they called outsized budgets, insufficient civilian oversight and systemic racism, and they chanted for justice and waved signs that read "counselors not cops" and "white people do better." After a series of speeches, the crowd marched to the Suffolk County Police Department's Fourth Precinct building.
The demonstration came more than three months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked massive protests across the country. The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last week renewed outrage over the issue.
Speakers at the Hauppauge rally said local elected officials — Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, in particular — are not doing enough to combat police misconduct on Long Island.
"Nassau and Suffolk want to act like it's not happening here," Shanequa Levin of the Long Island Black Alliance said to the gathered protesters. "But it is happening here."
Levin cited "PACT," a Curran initiative to spur dialogue between protest organizers and law enforcement.
"Is that going to really create change?" she asked the crowd. "No!" came the reply.
"Where's Steve Bellone on this in Suffolk County?" she asked. "Nothing's happening."
Curran spokesman Mike Fricchione said PACT stakeholders will create a police reform plan that will be open to community input and go before the Nassau County Legislature. He also said the county is exploring equipping officers with body cameras.
Bellone, in a statement Sunday, said: “Suffolk County has made great progress in diversifying our police force and building community trust by embracing and instituting a number of reforms in the last few years.”
The statement continued: “As mandated by Governor Cuomo, the county is working to develop a plan that builds upon this progress and modernizes police strategies."
Speakers at the rally Sunday repeatedly brought up Akbar Rogers and Matthew Felix, two African American men who protesters said have been victims of brutality by Long Island police.
Freeport police officers punched, Tased and kicked Rogers as he lay on the ground during his arrest in December. Nassau police shot Felix fatally in February. At the time, police said he was a suspect in a carjacking, which family members have disputed. The New York State Attorney General's Office is investigating.
Protesters on Sunday outlined numerous reforms they want enacted in Long Island law enforcement agencies. Police budgets should shrink, they said, and funding for social services and violence reduction programs should increase. Civilians should have more oversight over police and more input on police contracts and reforms. And trained specialists, not armed officers, should handle domestic disputes, traffic stops and a host of other scenarios currently under the purview of police.
"Cops can't solve every issue in our society," said Terryl Dozier of Long Island Network for Change.
Jackie Burbridge of the Long Island Black Alliance said groups such as hers would not likely settle for changes they view as insufficient.
"This time," she said, "incremental reform in policing will not be enough."