The story was reported by David Olson, Jean-Paul Salamanca and Dandan Zou. It was written by Zou.
More than a thousand people rallied at Eisenhower Park on Saturday in a “Back the Blue” demonstration to show support for law enforcement amid weeks of national protests calling for an end to police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Early Saturday afternoon, demonstrators streamed into the park in East Meadow, hoisting “thin blue line” flags and carrying signs with slogans such as “God bless the NYPD.”
“My police officers and all police officers need a shot in the arm right about now, and this is a nice shot in the arm for the Nassau County Police Department,” said James McDermott, the president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association.
Signs, T-shirts and flags supporting President Donald Trump abounded, as did signs deriding New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Several times, the crowd broke out in chants of “four more years."
Lisa Tuozzolo of Huntington, whose husband, NYPD Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo, was killed by a suspect in a domestic dispute in 2016, told the crowd to “not back down. Keep fighting. Keep remembering how much you are appreciated.”
Near the pro-police rally, more than 60 counterdemonstrators from Black White Brown United arrived to a “free speech area," chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” as pro-law enforcement ralliers countered with “All Lives Matter” and “USA” from the other side of a yellow rope, with dozens of uniformed Nassau County police between them.
One counterprotester was arrested at about 3:30 p.m. outside metal barricades near the front of the Back the Blue demonstration. He was walked away from the rally in handcuffs by police as members of the pro-police crowd booed and chanted “USA.”
Retired NYPD Sgt. Timothy Farrell said the rally is important because “most Americans are not being heard” above the pervasive, anti-police rhetoric.
“When you look around and see what’s going on right now, you see anarchy and disorder,” said Farrell, of Williston Park.
Although some protests in Manhattan and elsewhere against police brutality have had violence, most, including those on Long Island, have been peaceful.
If there is proof that a police officer has done something wrong, Farrell said, “I say hold that police officer accountable.” Just like there are bad politicians and lawyers, there are some bad cops, he said.
But what is lost in the anger toward the police, he said, is the dramatic drop in homicides, as well as other crimes that occurred over past decades, and that most officers are out to help others.
Darrin Porcher, a former NYPD lieutenant and adjunct criminal justice professor at Pace University, said protesters and politicians are promoting a false narrative that officers deliberately kill innocent people.
“I never once left the locker room intent on killing an innocent civilian,” he said to cheers.
Louis Civello, second vice president of the Suffolk County PBA, ridiculed calls to defund the police and instead direct that money to social services to prevent crime.
“Defund the police?” he asked rhetorically. “You tell me, when MS-13 chops somebody up with a machete, are we going to send a social worker? You tell me, when somebody goes into a first-grade classroom and decides they’re going to execute first-graders, do we send a doctor?”
Several GOP elected officials and candidates also addressed the crowd, including Reps. Lee Zeldin of Shirley and Peter King of Seaford.
Julian Maultsby, a 30-year-old counterdemonstrator, called the pro-police rally “nothing less than a counterprotest to our movement.”
“They always chant, ‘All Lives Matter,’ but all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter,” said Maultsby, of Elmont. “We’re trying to make sure we’re building a future where people don’t have to be afraid of the police.”
Sara Young, 24, said officers who don’t stop abusive behaviors are also part of the problem.
“As an institution they have so many faults, it’s hard to differentiate between good and bad,” said Young, of Lindenhurst. “The cops who don’t do anything when fellow cops do wrong — it makes them just as bad.”
Before Saturday’s rally, rock musician and conservative activist Ted Nugent had been invited to sing the national anthem, but he pulled out after criticism of his past inflammatory remarks.
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), a former police officer who resigned from one of his police jobs after he faced major disciplinary action following allegations of unnecessary force against a Black bystander, also pulled out of the event.
In a statement Friday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Nugent and Higgins had been advised of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s order requiring travelers from high-coronavirus-risk states to self-quarantine for 14 days. Texas, where Nugent has a home, and Louisiana are on the quarantine list.
“We won’t tolerate blatant violations of the Governor’s quarantine order for travelers from high-risk states, which is designed to protect the health and safety of Long Islanders,” Curran said.
In Bay Shore, roughly 30 protesters gathered at the Westfield South Shore shopping mall to call for justice for Kenny Lazo, a 24-year-old man who died from injuries suffered during an arrest by Suffolk police in 2008.
Protest organizers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a nationwide organization that operates out of New York City, said they were outraged that the officers involved in Lazo’s death were still on the force.
A police investigation found the five officers, who reportedly hit Lazo with metal flashlights after he reached for an officer's gun, acted appropriately, and a grand jury did not indict the officers on criminal charges.
Speaking to protesters who gathered at the mall, Jennifer Gonzales, the mother of Lazo’s son, also named Kenny, said she appreciated the support from protesters.
“The fight will never stop because the scar will never heal. They don’t understand what they took from us, and what they took from my son,” Gonzales said. “All I want is justice. These cops need to lose their pension. They need to be fired.”
During the three-hour-long peaceful protest, demonstrators marched 1.7 miles from the mall to the Third Precinct on McAdam Street. As they walked up Brook Avenue, they were greeted with encouraging shouts from drivers and neighbors.
Police outside the precinct wore masks and stood in a line, blocking the station as protesters chanted “Justice for Kenny” and “If we don’t get no justice, then they don’t get no peace.”