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Some Hispanic leaders voice support for Nassau's police commissioner

Leaders and members of the community gathered on

Leaders and members of the community gathered on Friday at Nassau Police Department headquarters in Mineola to oppose the call for Commissioner Patrick Ryder to resign.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

A group of Hispanic community leaders on Friday spoke out in support of Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder following calls from civil rights leaders and some police fraternal organizations for the commissioner to resign for comments he made about the department’s lack of diversity that some deemed racist.

Melissa Figueroa, a Hempstead resident and community activist, said she helped organize the news conference outside Nassau police headquarters in Mineola Friday morning to speak out in support of Ryder. She said Ryder should stay in place as police commissioner.

"His intentions have been good and he has served us well over his tenure as commissioner," Figueroa said. "This is about an unfortunate truth. He, as a white man, spoke on that and his delivery wasn’t great, unfortunately. But if you consider the whole context of what he was saying and the body of his work, I don’t think it’s fair to crucify our commissioner."

The show of support for Ryder comes a day after a coalition of civil rights leaders and some police fraternal organizations called on Ryder to resign. Ryder on Friday said he won’t resign and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran reiterated her support for the commissioner.

Ryder, in an interview published in Newsday last month, drew a parallel between the family life of racial minorities and their success at becoming police officers.

"Look, a lot of these kids come from broken homes. A lot of the kids come from struggles in their neighborhood. And they need that advantage, they need someone to push them a little bit."

Civil Rights attorney Frederick K. Brewington and a host of other activists and representatives of police fraternal organizations on Thursday said Ryder’s comments represent a pattern of insensitivity of racial disparities in policing and should disqualify him from leading the police department.

But Luis Vazquez, president of the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Ryder has always been inclusive.

"There’s no reason why he should resign or even think about resigning," said Vazquez. "He’s very dynamic; a lot of energy. He’s always included us in the community meetings, very proactive. He’s the guy next door. A great guy."

Vazquez said he was not offended by Ryder’s comments and said he thought the commissioner was merely pointing out that racial minorities face "some disadvantages."

Herberto Flores, the former deputy director of Nassau’s office of minority affairs under former County Executive Edward Mangano, said Ryder should get credit for all his past good works, including police department campaigns urging Hispanics and Spanish-speakers to take the police test.

"His actions have been to embrace and empower Hispanics specifically," Flores said. "Every time we have reached out to his office he always says, ‘what can I do to help?’ At this point, where we see he’s being unfairly accused, we’re here. Friends are supposed to help each other and he has been a good friend to the Hispanic community."

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