As a young lawyer, J. Stewart Moore struggled with seeing black defendants in shackles, and by how often court officers would ask him if he was an attorney.
“It used to be very disheartening and I would want to walk out of court. But I realized, I might be the difference here, and I need to be here,” he said.
Moore, executive director of the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association, was one of several panelists who spoke Saturday at an event dubbed the “State of Black Nassau County” held at the Elmont Memorial Library.
Guest speakers, most of whom were black and represented organizations such as civic groups, police officers and business groups, addressed topics of structural inequality for black people, including health concerns, the achievement gap in schools, and housing discrimination.
Nassau County Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) organized the event, which attracted a crowd of about 35. He said having an open dialogue around race and issues affecting minorities is critical.
“I want there to be a barometer for us to assess whether things are getting better for communities of color,” he said. “When you help and focus on black Americans, you help all Americans.”
One of the panelists Saturday was Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein. He said that while the county increasingly ranks among the healthiest counties in the state, some communities need better access to health care.
“I acknowledge the disparities that exist,” Eisenstein said. “We have eight or nine ZIP codes which tend to be, but not always are, largely minority communities where the health outcomes are significantly worse.”
Eisenstein noted that for decades it’s been known that black women giving birth die at rates higher than other women, but what is unknown is why.
“Studies have ruled out socioeconomics and education as factors,” he said. “So, very rich, highly educated black women still die multiple times more often than the average nonblack person who is delivering a baby.”
Eisenstein said structural inequalities most likely play a role in the issue.
Also mentioned at the forum, by Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, is research from PolicyLink and the Urban League of Long Island that indicated if the Island’s racial gap in income were eliminated, its economy could have been $24 billion stronger in 2014.
Theresa Sanders, president of the Urban League of Long Island, said if that income disparity is not reduced, generations of black people will struggle to earn a livable wage on Long Island.
Sanders also spoke about finding solutions, including on how to recruit more black people to work as police officers despite the stigma some in the community may place on the profession.
“A lot of our young people have not had positive experiences dealing with the police,” she said. “But then we put the ownership back on them . . . if you become the police officer, the experience may change, not only for you, but for your community.”