Long Islanders took part in two rallies last weekend — one in Freeport, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and one only a few miles away in Franklin Square, to lift the spirits of police.
In Freeport, dozens of people gathered at the Bishop Frank O. White Park, also known as Northeast Park, on Saturday for a community cookout and basketball tournament.
The event was hosted by Long Island Peaceful Protest, a local group of activists founded by brothers Terrel and Tiandre Tuosto, of West Hempstead, who have led Black Lives Matter demonstrations across Long Island.
Rock George, 25, of West Hempstead, who attended the event with friends, said it served not only to unite local communities, but also to lift the spirits of the Black community after the Breonna Taylor grand jury proceeding, in which no police officers were charged with her killing.
“As a Black man seeing cases like this happen again and again, you struggle to feel like you’re worth something,” George said. “So events like this are important be-cause it helps build up our brothers and sisters.”
LI Peaceful Protest also hosted a diversity book drive for the New Visions Elementary School earlier this month, along with a school supply drive at the Long Island Cares food pantry in Freeport.
Douglas Meyer, president of the NAACP’s Freeport-Roosevelt branch, said he was excited to see a growing number of young people involved in the BLM movement, which has become one of the largest civil rights movements in U.S. history.
“I’ve been running this branch for 21 years now, and I’m glad to see so many young people active in our communities who could take over for us older folks,” Meyer said. “It’s the only way we can continue to bring change.”
He added that he was still hopeful that there would be justice for Taylor. He also said that in order for there to be more such justice, the nation must overhaul its criminal justice system, including the way juries are selected.
“Our branch has held demonstrations outside the county offices to demand actual representation [by people of color] in our juries,” Meyer said. “It’s not common for people like us to find an actual jury of our peers who understand where we’re coming from.”
While those in Freeport united over BLM and police accountability, hundreds gathered in Franklin Square, a majority white community, to show their support for police.
Franklin Square volunteer firefighters Joe Block and Chris Howard organized the event in honor of family members who are police officers. The march, they noted, was not intended to be a protest or rally. “I would say it’s more on the lines of a spirit booster for them,” Howard said, “just to let them know we still have their backs.”
In January, the organization Blue HELP, which focuses on police officers’ mental health, reported that 228 officers across the country died by suicide last year, up from 174 the year before. New York state had the highest number of police suicides, 27.
Many attendees said that it was important for them to show their support for law enforcement, because anti-police rhetoric is on the rise. Gabi Stolz said that police officers “lay out their lives for us every day,” adding, “If they don’t support our neighborhoods, no one will.”
But Dennis McDonald, another Franklin Square resident who took part in the walk to show his support for his son-in-law, a New York City corrections officer, said he thought it was “very unfortunate that the [police] defunding movement is so misunderstood.” McDonald said he supported allocating more resources to services that help the homeless and mentally ill, so police would be unburdened by those calls.
“I know how hard it is for my son-in-law,” he said, adding that, while the criminal justice system needs to be made “even and fair for all,” people should not be disrespectful to police officers who are doing their jobs.