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New LI coalition to focus on police actions

About 400 people on Long Island demonstrated against

About 400 people on Long Island demonstrated against what they called police brutality in a rally held in Amityville on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Long Island advocates who organized a "Black Lives Matter" rally in December are forming a coalition to keep the spotlight on law enforcement agencies and counter what they see as aggressive policing in minority communities.

The groups, under the new Long Island United for Police Reform coalition, are launching their effort at a news conference Tuesday morning outside the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip.

The event is timed to coincide with a scheduled court appearance for former Suffolk police Sgt. Scott Greene, who is charged with stealing cash from immigrants in traffic stops. Greene, 51, of Shirley, has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of grand larceny and petty larceny, charged as hate crimes.

The activists, who organized the earlier rally in Amityville as a protest against killings of black men by police, said they plan to campaign against "increasingly confrontational and unchecked police practices" in Suffolk and Nassau counties, as well as village departments.

They said they will push "an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices on Long Island," according to a document outlining the coalition's goals.

"There has been a need for increased police accountability," said Steven McFarland, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which works to increase civic participation. About 500 people came out for the December rally, he said, and advocates saw "real energy" to seek changes.

The Suffolk County Police Department said in a statement Monday that it has been "working diligently" to improve relations with the county's "many diverse communities" and has put in place an enhanced "Early Warning Intervention System" to flag possible misconduct.

The agency is reporting bias complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice under an agreement that stemmed from a federal probe into local law enforcement's handling of alleged attacks on immigrants, after the 2008 killing in Patchogue of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in an assault by a group of teens.

Suffolk police have made efforts in "minority recruiting, community outreach, enhanced cultural sensitivity training and Spanish language instruction," the statement said. "The department will continue to treat every complaint about an officer's misconduct seriously and will act upon and investigate it fully."

The Nassau County Police Department would not comment on the coalition's start. Officials earlier said the agency is working to maintain outreach in minority communities.

Other groups joining the coalition are LatinoJustice, Justice for Kenny Lazo, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, SEPA Mujer, STRONG Youth, The Corridor Counts and the county chapters of the New York Civil Liberties Union -- all groups that work in Latino and black communities on Long Island.

While the coalition won't operate independently or have a separate staff, it will serve to unite all the groups' efforts on that common issue, organizers said.

"What we are launching is a sustainable grassroots movement of organizations and community members who have been affected by police misconduct and are coming together to call for accountable policing," said Amol Sinha, director of the NYCLU's Suffolk chapter. "We are providing a platform for those community members that have been affected by policing and need to have their voices heard."

Jennifer Gonzalez, a Bay Shore resident, said she felt she was fighting alone when 24-year-old Kenny Lazo, the father of her son, died from injuries suffered during an arrest by Suffolk police in 2008, after officers reportedly hit him with flashlights. She became an advocate.

"I was reaching out to different organizations to help guide me on what to do, where to go, how to deal with this, mentally, legally and emotionally, and, unfortunately there was no one around to help," said Gonzalez, 28. "One reason why I am getting involved is because I think that the lack of advocacy we have here on Long Island makes the situation worse."

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