Bound youths protest social service cuts

A rally in Mineola voiced community displeasure with Nassau officials' plans to cut $7.3-million from youth programs. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Aug. 6, 2012)

A group of teens and social service advocates bound themselves with duct tape and pretended they were hostages to protest $7.3 million in youth social service cuts during Monday's Nassau County Legislature meeting.

The demonstration, which involved eight wrist-bound protesters ages 13 to 34 wearing tape over their mouths, fueled a heated exchange between Republican legislators and the advocates.

Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said he "would have called Child Protective Services" if he had seen the teens before the meeting.

"I am just appalled," Legis. Rose Marie Walker (R-Hicksville) added. "This is outright wrong."

Rahsmia Zatar, executive director of STRONG Youth Inc., a Hempstead social service agency that organized the protest, defended the group's actions, saying lawmakers have held more than 40 defunded groups "hostage" by not restoring the cuts.

"They're the ones really putting kids in danger by cutting programs that lead youth away from a life of danger and down the right path," said Zatar, whose group lost $200,000 for after-school and summer programs that serve about 300 children.

Republican and Democratic leaders, gridlocked over redistricting and borrowing measures, have not reached a compromise on restoring any of the money initially promised to the groups from red-light camera funds. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano included the cuts in a $45-million deficit-reduction plan announced last month.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin blamed the impasse on Democrats not voting on borrowing to pay for $41 million in tax refunds owed to commercial property owners.

"Actions speak louder than words; the votes restore the funds," Nevin said.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Democrats supported the groups by voting against the initial repeal of the red-light camera funds, and said before any compromise on borrowing is reached, Republicans have to ensure a "fairer" redistricting map that allows for a "two-party" system.

Before the meeting, more than 50 religious leaders and children held a prayer vigil in front of the Nassau County Executive Building in Mineola and called for a reversal of the cuts.

With Celeste Hadrick

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