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Long Islanders join 'Justice for All' march on U.S. Capitol

At Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport, people board

At Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport, people board a bus bound for the Justice for All march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

WASHINGTON -- Some marched for their sons; others on behalf of brothers and nephews.

The contingent from Long Island -- 150 strong -- rode a trio of chartered buses to Washington Saturday, joining tens of thousands in a "Justice for All" march that swept down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol.

They came, many said, to shine a light on recent deaths of unarmed black men and boys at the hands of police, and to demand better oversight of policing nationwide.

Among the marchers who gathered before dawn at Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport was Derrick Dingle of Roosevelt.

"It's an opportunity to pay it forward and correct the injustices that are happening," said Dingle, 49, who felt he was following the example of an earlier generation of civil rights activists.

He said he was "standing in the gap" for his 15-year-old son, who couldn't attend.

"I thought it was very important for my son . . . for his protection, for his future," said Dingle, deputy director of a nonprofit agency focused on youth and substance-abuse issues.

Joyce McGee, 51, of Long Beach said joining the march was "the least that I can do" to fight injustice.

"I have brothers. I have nephews," said McGee, who owns a gourmet cookie business.

Echoing some of the other Long Island marchers, McGee recounted an unsettling brush with law enforcement.

The Chicago native recalled how she was pulled over by police for no apparent reason years ago in her hometown. She was on her way to the gym that morning and had a hood over her head due to the February chill.

Two officers approached with guns drawn and ordered her to put her hands on the dashboard, she said. When they realized she wasn't the man they were looking for, they withdrew. But the sting of that startling encounter endures.

"I was frustrated," McGee said. "I was minding my own business."

The Rev. Louis Mellini, assistant pastor of Perfecting Faith, said last week that the church wants to help achieve positive change. "We can't be silent during this," he said.

At the same time, Mellini urged protesters to balance their anger over police shootings with a recognition of the good law enforcement does. "Not all those who don a uniform and a badge should be demonized," he said.

That message was taken to heart by marcher Maureen Bell, an educator from Roosevelt with three grown sons.

While dismayed by "innocent" black lives being lost and a lack of accountability among some police, she said, "I'm not saying all cops are bad."

Linda Castleberry of Central Islip brought her three teenage children to Washington to teach them "you can stand and make a difference."

When the Perfecting Faith group merged with other marchers -- a multiracial crowd with colorful banners, signs and T-shirts, Castleberry exclaimed, "It's beautiful. It's all walks of life out here. . . . My kids can look back and know they were part of history."

The Rev. Kirk D. Lyons Sr., pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, was impressed by the outpouring of young people and their galvanizing presence.

"I like the fact that the next generation stepped up to the plate," said Lyons, 54.

"They are smarter; they are more tech-savvy," he said. "And, unfortunately for the powers that be, they are less patient than we are. So change needs to come."

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