“Can you stop by?” Douglas Mayers, head of Roosevelt’s NAACP, asked, the melody of his Jamaican accent tinged with tension. It was Wednesday, July 6, and black leadership on Long Island was seeking a way to respond to the police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, captured via video one day earlier.
The region’s sheer size, scattering of mostly black and Latino communities, and its diffused leadership structure — which includes pastors, community volunteers, public officials and others — would make crafting a single response almost impossible, he acknowledged.
Still, Mayers was willing to reach around Nassau and into Suffolk to seek consensus on a local response to police-involved shootings, an issue that resonates as much on Long Island as it does nationally.
By the time I checked with Mayers on Thursday, a second and equally disturbing video was going viral. Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria worker, had been shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb. His girlfriend live-streamed the shooting aftermath on Facebook, while her 4-year-old sat in the back seat.
And then came Friday, when a gunman, intent on retaliation for the deaths of Sterling and Castile, killed five police officers in Dallas.
What could be done? What kind of response could be made?
There came, from a variety of quarters, suggestions of prayer services.
And protest marches.
Facebook, meanwhile, became a repository of information posted by local residents, from videos on handling a police traffic stop to notifications of when and where marches and prayer services would be.
And as the week wore on, some of the region’s black and Latino elected officials called to say they were discussing whether policing and public policy changes could help. One police department member made the suggestion that more training in cultural bias would help.
By the weekend, the region had no single response.
There were, in fact, several.
There were protest marches in Hempstead and Riverhead, along with support-the-police marches in Nassau. There were gatherings across the region where residents of all faiths, sought comfort and resolve in prayer.
In Central Islip, Pastor Roderick A. Pearson of St. Mark Remnant Ministries told worshippers, in the closing of his sermon: “Just as a cop killing a young man is wrong, it’s wrong for somebody to kill the cops. Murder is wrong. Murder is wrong. Murder is wrong.”
Meanwhile, across the Island, there were numerous gatherings, and planned meetings between pastors, residents and elected officials to address police community relations.
“I’ve been hearing from pastors,” Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) said in an interview. “We want to keep talking, keep building the relationship. It’s even more important after the events of last week.”
On Saturday, during a youth exposition at the community park in Central Islip, residents and Suffolk County police officers — together for the first time since last week’s slayings — mingled easily. “We love our police, we love our police” expo organizer Lisa Pinkard of the Youth Empowerment Project of Long Island called out from the stage.
Still, there was no escaping discussion of last week’s madness, even as residents work toward crafting solutions.
“What we have to do . . . is to be sure that we prevent a situation like that from happening here,” said DuWayne Gregory, presiding officer of Suffolk’s legislature, as Police Athletic League volunteers gathered in the park behind him.
“Because communities across the country are tense, anxious,” he said, “and their thoughts are, ‘We could be next.’ ”