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Empanel grand jury to investigate police-suspect struggle in Freeport

Family images of Akbar Rogers, who was arrested

Family images of Akbar Rogers, who was arrested in Freeport this week on Dec. 3, 2019. Credit: Rogers Family

"Why are you punching him like that? Why are you hitting him?"

A woman's screams puncture a scene  in a video that  depicts Freeport Village police officers dragging Akbar Rogers, who appears to be struggling, over a chain-link fence.  They appear to continue pounding him with their fists and feet. Rogers is black; several   officers who surround him appear to be white.

The incident earlier this week raises familiar concerns about race and overly aggressive policing that must be addressed quickly.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said her office will review the incident. That's not enough. She has to present all the evidence, as quickly as possible, to a grand jury. That's the only way the public, especially residents of Freeport, can be assured a credible review was done.

The deeply disturbing video, shot by a bystander, shows that as the suspect appears to resist arrest, two officers punch him repeatedly, while another seems to be kicking him. The sound of a Taser is  heard, although according to the village, only a function similar to a stun gun was used.

According to village officials, Rogers, 44, initially was wanted on an outstanding warrant for aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, and then on charges of physical harassment and traffic violations from a vehicle chase with police last month. When officers tried to detain him at his home on Tuesday, he fled, which gave way to a foot chase that ended in the confrontation.

Whether the officers used improper or excessive force is a complex legal determination that depends on the available evidence and prior court rulings that give police wide latitude in dealing with a suspect who resists. There's much we don't know. Before conclusions are drawn, more information must be gathered from Rogers and the officers involved, as well as from witnesses and police body cameras.

Village officials must recognize the precarious consequences of the incident at a time of distrust and tension in black communities. That's why their decision to allow the involved officers to remain on the streets is troublesome. Officials said they don't see any reason to take the officers off the street. But for perception alone, there's ample reason to put the officers  on desk duty or give them paid leave until the investigations are complete. This is common practice in New York City and elsewhere.

The situation is further complicated because one of the officers involved is the son of Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy. Kennedy must recuse himself from any decisions regarding this incident. 

Nassau County Legislators Kevan Abrahams and Debra Mulé also must lead and listen to  make sure residents are heard. 

Freeport is a racially mixed  community, although many of its neighborhoods have distinct racial breakdowns that betray the village's overall diversity. Residents plan a rally for Friday. It's important that the outrage  which has spread across social media doesn't spiral out of control on the streets.

Only a thorough assessment of what happened will allow Freeport to find a unified way forward.  — The editorial board

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