Long Islanders gathered in Mineola on Sunday to show solidarity for Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by five Memphis police officers after a traffic stop and later died. Credit: Howard Simmons

Several dozen activists and community members rallied outside the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola Sunday to call for change following the death of Tyre Nichols, who was brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers after a traffic stop this month.

 “Tyre Nichols should be alive today. He should be taking pictures and skateboarding and living his best life,” said Gahrey Ovalle, a community activist from Central Islip who spoke to the crowd. “These charges against these five officers, they alone will not bring us to justice. Change will bring us to justice.”

Ovalle, who spoke in front of crowd of about 40, said nearly three years after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May 2020, activists must still keep working for change. Ovalle said police brutality is an issue that continues to affect communities in our area and around the country.

“The reality is if we don’t speak up for ourselves and protect ourselves, and fight for ourselves, nobody else will,” Ovalle said later in an interview. “This is an issue that continues to impact our communities and for us we have to call it out and dismantle this thing in its place.”

The five officers involved in the arrest were fired on Jan. 20 after an internal investigation found they used excessive force and they were charged with murder. Nichols, 29, died Jan. 10, three days after he was beaten.

While paying respect to Nichols, speakers also referenced the 310-page document produced by three local community-based coalitions that calls for major reforms in policing on Long Island, known as the "The People's Plan.”

The document was produced in response to the death of Floyd. Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order asking each police agency in New York to evaluate practices including use of force, crowd management, bias training and response to citizen complaints.

Daniel McElroy, a member of Long Island United to Transform Policing & Community Safety, one of the coalitions, said the proposal is focused on public safety and health, focusing on how police deal with people in crisis.

“One section of the police reform plan, The People’s Plan, is about alternative crisis response and that means sending in qualified mental health specialists, social workers, people who are more able to deal with drug issues than the police," he said.

Several speakers talked about their own police experiences and expressed a need for change, followed by a tribute to the memory of Nichols by holding up their cellphone flashlights.

Benjamin Pruitt, 60, of Wheatley Heights, who stood in the crowd of supporters, said Nichols' beating brought back memories of an encounter he had in 1994 in which he was shot by a Nassau police officer.

“Something should be done about it,” he said. “It continues to go on, not only here, but everywhere.”

Frederick Brewington, a civil rights attorney who helped author The People's Plan, said: “We can’t oversimply what happened in Memphis, but we should look at it because it is a major issue that we need to address because police in America have authority over life and death … We shouldn’t wait until death comes to Nassau County.”

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