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Long Islanders again protest police violence as Cuomo outlines plan to reform forces

Demonstrations calling for reforms to policing continued across Long Island on Saturday. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas; John Roca, Kendall Rodriguez

This story was reported by Daysi Calavia-Robertson, Catherine Carrera, Zachary R. Dowdy, David Olson and Dandan Zou. It was written by Dowdy.

Local governments will lose most state funding if they don’t redesign their police forces by April 1, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday as Long Islanders clamored in the streets for justice for George Floyd, whose killing sparked protests worldwide and a wave of legislation in states and Congress.

Cuomo said community members must be part of the discussions, and each locality will be able to choose its own approach on such matters as use of force, the size of the police department, the weapons police use, citizen-complaint procedures and the disciplinary process, as long as they adhere to state law.

“We’re going to birth a new vision for a police force, community by community, because there is no one size fits all,” he said during a daily briefing in Manhattan on COVID-19 and the protest movement that followed the death of Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died on Memorial Day after a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. 

The governor’s remarks came a day after he signed into law a sweeping 10-bill package of reforms. The reforms include banning chokeholds, reducing restrictions on the release of police disciplinary records and requiring state troopers to wear body cameras.

Saturday morning, Cuomo said that a county or municipality could lose all state funding — except for certain “vital” health and human services money — if they didn’t submit redesign legislation.

Those measures encouraged protesters but did not stop demonstrations Saturday afternoon in Coram, Baldwin and Roosevelt.

Some 700 people chanted protest slogans from a megaphone as they marched from Roosevelt’s Centennial Park to the Nassau County Police Department’s First Precinct in Baldwin.

There, they met 200 protesters who had been waiting in front of the Merrick Road building for several hours. 

Before the merger, some protesters shouted curses at the dozen or so white police officers present, and one protester — just inches away from an officer’s face — screamed in anger.

“Why aren’t there any cops that look like us?” one man shouted, adding, “We want … We need more black officers.”

The officers, who stood with arms crossed and remained silent, did not engage with protesters.

 “I am over it,” said Angelica Batista, 31, of Roosevelt, who wore a black T-shirt that read 'Over It.' "I’m sick and tired of watching the news or opening my phone and seeing all these news stories about yet another black person murdered by police … America is supposed to be a free country where there’s equality but it certainly doesn’t feel as though that’s true right now.” 

Earlier, at a protest in Coram, up to 60 demonstrators chanted and held banners that read “Stop Killing Us” and “RIP George Floyd" as they called for reforms in policing and an end to racism.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that your voice doesn’t matter,” said Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright during the afternoon event on Mount Sinai-Coram Road and Middle Country Road. "Governor Cuomo’s recent announcements mean police reform is here … and do you know why it’s here? It’s because of you. The legislation passed because of you, you demanded the change and we’re starting to see the fruits of your labor.”

Cartwright went on to call the package of reforms the “most aggressive, comprehensive, legislation with respect to police reform” since she’s been a civil rights attorney — “I’m coming up on 16 years!,” she said. 

Michelle Codie, 56, a minister ordained at St. Mary’s AME Zion Church in Gordon Heights, said it took six years to become a minister.

“And I’ve been going to church all my life,” she said. “Why is becoming a police officer so much easier than becoming a minister, a teacher, and so many other professions?”

 Codie said, though she believed the new laws signed by the governor were a step in the right direction, she hoped the “new vision for the police forces” emphasizes education and training of officers. 

“Their training shouldn’t be so short," Codie said. "In some places it takes what? Just a few months to make it through the academy, earn a badge and hit the street. They need more training on how and when to use force … the killings need to stop and stop for good.”

At a Saturday news conference, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, “We’re actually way ahead of that curve and doing every one of those things” called for in Cuomo's executive order. 

Asked about arrests at a protest in East Meadow on Friday, Nassau officials defended their record handling the Floyd demonstrations. Nassau has had 75 protests with 30,000 demonstrators and 14 arrests, Curran told reporters Saturday.

“None of our protesters have been injured,” she said, though one officer suffered a broken ankle and one was punched in the face.

Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said two people were arrested because they tried to walk in a road that had not been cleared of traffic — with one bumping an officer “a little bit” toward the vehicles.

The third person arrested pushed a lieutenant who was trying to calm the scene.

A video posted to social media showed a protester bumping into a Nassau officer who stopped in front of him. The video continues and shows the arrest involving several officers. 

Cuomo said the proposed redesigns were a reaction to the tens of thousands of New Yorkers on Long Island and elsewhere who had been protesting.

In response to the governor’s announcement, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county would gather community input and put together a plan to submit to the state.

“I think we need to look at our entire criminal justice system,” he said. “The good news is our police department has been doing some really great things around community policing … The biggest thing that we can do to improve and build upon the success we have had is to make this department more diverse and have it really reflect the communities that it serves across the county,” Bellone said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Referring to the demonstrations continuing Saturday, Cuomo said, “You don’t need to protest. You won …. You’re right. We agree with you, protesters. Now, tell us what the police force should look like.”

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