Rallies were held in Islip and Hempstead Saturday as Long Island residents added their voices to the national chorus demanding justice in the recent killings of black males by authorities.
More than 120 people -- including clergy, elected officials, and community activists -- gathered about 1 p.m. outside Hempstead Village Hall, to support those across the country who have called for the federal government to investigate Eric Garner's death at the hands of New York City police.
Bishop David B. Gates Sr., pastor of Miracle Christian Center in Hempstead, helped organize the United We Stand, One Voice, One Message rally.
He said the event aimed to show that injustice would no longer be tolerated and to empower residents and leaders to develop an action plan.
"Liberty and justice for all -- it can't just be for the influential and affluent," he said in an interview. "It has to be for all."
A separate, roughly 20-minute noon rally, was held on the steps of Islip Town Hall.
Chanting "Increase the peace, release the peace," about 25 Islip-area residents and clergy marched down Main Street to show solidarity with the "Justice for All" rally in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators showed support for the families of Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and other black men and youths killed by police and others.
The Suffolk Peace Rally began with a march from Brookwood Hall Park in East Islip to the Town Hall about a mile away on Main Street.One Islip marcher, Shelia Austin, 54, of Central Islip, said she had talked with her three grandsons, ages 6, 10 and 11, about being very careful and respectful if they encounter police officers. "Too many people are dying unnecessarily," Austin said. "Why can't the police just shoot them in the leg to stop them [suspects]?"
Tenaiyah Morgan, 20, of Central Islip, said she wanted to be part of the rally because she fears for her 5-year-old brother. "He likes to walk around and wander," Morgan said. "I'm afraid he might get shot one day because of a misunderstanding about what he looked like or what he was wearing."
Victor Ambrose, 72, of Islip, who appeared to be the lone white participant, is a legal services attorney who represents the poor in civil cases. He said he was marching for himself, not his job.
"The history of this country has been so terrible when it comes to race relations," Ambrose said. "While things have improved, we still have a long way to go."
In Hempstead, many speakers addressed the crowd from an elevated stage, and there were performances of inspirational and spiritual songs: the "Negro National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing)" and "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."
Participants locked arms and sang "Lean on Me."
Greaves said that when all is said and done, what he called the "careless" taking of lives can be avoided if both police and civilians respect each other.
Holding his year-old son, Bryan Greaves III, Greaves said, "As his father I have a responsibility to instill in him respect for his parents, friends, and fellow citizens, and for authority as well as himself."
More than a dozen speakers echoed that sentiment.
Bishop Norman H. Lyons Jr., pastor of Fountain of Life Church in Uniondale, noted the families of black men killed by police who have been in the news lately. "It is extremely difficult to have an argument with death . . . it brings divided people together," he said. "The question before us today is: What will we do about what we know?"
Lyons said some harsh realities must be confronted: "an unjust justice system that refuses to value our life," and black-on-black crime. "One of the reasons that they [authorities] don't respect us, is because we don't respect ourselves, and that's on us!"
Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr. said the rally was about coming together. "Thousands have taken to the streets, chanting 'I can't breathe,' and 'black and brown lives do matter,' " he said. "These marches and rallies with supporters of every race and background give us hope for our nation . . . But let us be clear: We can't stop with just marches."
Hall said the village is securing for its police body cameras. (Controversial police-involved deaths have spurred a national call for the devices.) "Change will only come when we are persistent and consistent," he said. "Change will only come when we look at some of the deep-rooted challenges that have kept us stuck in the same place for decades."
Shelley Brazley, a trustee of the Hempstead School Board, urged the crowd to become more involved in the school district.
"We have resources and we're not using them!" she said. "We have to teach our children to be competitive, and I believe that we have all we need in our hands . . . Sometimes it's just us being creative and doing what we need to do . . . I am tired of hearing about what we can't do. I want to hear about what we can do!"
Victoria Culbreath, 49, brought her sons, Andrew, 14, and Alan, 20, to the rally because she thought they should be engaged in the issue. "They're the next generation," she said, adding that she had told them "Hopefully, when you grow up, your unborn child or children maybe won't have to face this."
Culbreath, a Hempstead resident of about 20 years, said her sons have learned African-American history, but recent police-involved deaths of black men have been startling. "They know what the people that came before us did. So it was like, 'Oh man, we're doing this again?' I think it's unbelievable."
When asked what she hopes comes from the rally, Culbreath said, "I hope that . . . there is a sustained voice that continues all over the nation . . . and it just continues to resound until there's change."