The president of the NAACP, addressing the group’s Long Island chapters, said Saturday the civil rights organization remains as relevant now as when it was founded 107 years ago, leading fights against racism and bigotry, and for economic and social justice.
Cornell William Brooks, who is also an attorney, activist and pastor, rejected the notion that the NAACP is “somehow outdated, antiquated, ready to take up residence in a retirement home.” He praised the NAACP’s Nassau and Suffolk chapters for their efforts in calling for a special prosecutor in the death of Eric Garner, who died after NYPD officers wrestled him to the ground in an apparent chokehold during an arrest, and to change the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies.
Brooks spoke to about 800 people at the Crest Hollow Country Club, saying the group’s social justice efforts were not “merely historic, but history making.”
Nationally, those efforts have included demanding that the Department of Justice investigate the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officers as well as leading a 43-day march over more than 1,000 miles from Selma, Alabama to Washington D.C., that concluded with the lobbying of Congress to protect the achievements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Brooks also said the group stands against not only racism, but bigotry and bias of all forms.
“In 2016, when we have certain presidential candidates who adopt demagoguery as a viable campaign strategy, who design immigration policy by tweet, who call Mexicans rapists, who degrade and dehumanize and denounce Muslims, Muslim Americans, as though it were a sport . . . it is this NAACP who calls it for what it is: xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, bigotry and bias.” he said. “We call it what it is: It’s un-American. It’s not what we do,” Brooks said.
Brooks vowed that the group would continue its work in voter education and voter registration to keep civil rights on the nation’s agenda.
Attendees at the lunch included various state, county and local public officials, including state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini.
Sini said in an interview that the Suffolk County Police has vested interest in partnering with community organizations in fighting crime and building trust in communities. He said the department is in the process of revamping its Internal Affairs Bureau to uphold high policing standards.
“It’s a major priority of the department to improve relationships with our minority communities,” Sini said.
Audience members’ concerns mirrored some of those voiced by Brooks.
Rev. Dr. Keith Hayward of the Bethel AME Church, in Copiague, who was an honoree at the luncheon, said he was concerned with voting rights and racial and economic equality. “Getting the information out is critical,” he said. “So when your eyes have been opened, you can’t look around like you’re still blind.”
The luncheon also honored various members of the community of all ages for their achievements. The event’s sponsors included Cablevision, which owns Newsday; News 12, also owned by Cablevision; the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk County; the Islamic Center of Long Island; and New York State United Teachers.