Protesters gathered at Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon following the release of video from the police beating death of Tyre Nichols. Credit: Howard Simmons

One day after the release of video footage showing Memphis police beating Tyre Nichols, who later died, local activists said it shows that more has to change in policing.

Several Black Long Island community leaders spoke to Newsday about the many challenges facing residents who have been seeking police reforms, from a perceived lack of follow-through on previously introduced plans, to protest fatigue and a law enforcement culture they see as resistant to change.

“Today is heavy and sad,” said Laura Harding, president of the Syosset-based civil rights organization Erase Racism. “No mother, no parent, no person should have to watch their child die in such a heinous manner at the hands of people who are meant to protect them and uphold the law.”

Terryl Dozier of Long Island United to Transform Policing and Community Safety said Nichols’ Jan. 7 beating at the hands of five Memphis police officers — Nichols died three days later — has given him a new “fire in his belly.”

“We have to make a change now,” the Huntington Station resident said following a Saturday meeting of Long Island United and other local organizations.

Tracey Edwards, regional director of the Long Island Chapter of the NAACP, shared a statement from the organization’s national leader, Derrick Johnson, who called for action from Congress that “ensures no one must ever experience or witness this kind of violence at the hands of law enforcement ever again.”

The video release forced the Long Island activists, each of whom worked on police reform plans mandated by then Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the aftermath of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, to look back on that process. 

“The idea of police reform was not patchwork,” Hempstead-based civil rights attorney Frederick K. Brewington said. “Reform means serious institutional change.”

The issue, Harding said, comes down to a willingness of officers to re-evaluate how they view the communities they police.

"Right now if I'm a police department ... I'm arranging opportunities to talk to young people, to talk with Black men, to talk with various community organizations to really reassure them that as a police department, you're working to address this stuff and you're committed to it," Harding said.

In a statement following the video’s release, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said they “condemn the actions taken by the Memphis police officers.” They asked communities to “remain calm” and said “actions of a violent nature will never be tolerated.”

In a statement, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park), a retired NYPD detective, labeled the actions of the officers in Memphis “absolutely sickening" and called for “greater federal involvement in setting police training standards.”

On Saturday evening, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone posted to social media, saying the "gut-wrenching actions" of the Memphis officers "inflicted an all too familiar pain."

In a separate statement that did not directly reference what happened in Memphis, the Suffolk police's public information office said the department was prepared to respond to protests to ensure public safety.

The community leaders interviewed Saturday spoke of several differences in the deaths of Nichols and Floyd, including the race of the officers involved and the timing of both tragedies.

Floyd’s death occurred during the COVID-19 shutdown, when residents had more time for public demonstrations calling for change, Dozier said.

Harding added that the Black community is “struggling” with the fact that Nichols was killed by Black officers and she questioned if the officers would have been dismissed and brought up on criminal charges so quickly if they were white.

She said the reveal from Friday’s video release that Nichols called for his mother as the officers repeatedly struck him, even as he appears to not fight back, offers a stark reminder to the Black community.

“My heart goes out to all of us who worry today," Harding said. "All of us who step a little more lightly because we don't know what will happen to us on any given day.”

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