Dozens of neighbors rallied outside of Hempstead Town Hall last week demanding transparency, fair representation and free speech in the efforts to draw new lines for six town districts.
Those who made it inside for the Tuesday morning meeting mentioned having to take off work, and simply not being given enough notice the redistricting meeting was happening in the first place.
What has much of their attention is a town where 40 percent of its residents are people of color represented by a town council that is mostly white. Properly balancing that representation requires more public hearings, they said, and the inclusion of three minority-majority districts. Those are districts where ethnicities in the minority overall are actually in the majority, as a way to help bolster minority representation on the council.
“It is a systematic system to separate us, to stop us from growing,” said Mimi Pierre-Johnson, founder of the Elmont Cultural Center. “Black and brown people have fought for every little thing that should be something that is natural for us in government.”
Tensions already are high when it comes to similar maps at the statewide level, used to determine congressional and state office districts. Federal law requires those maps to be re-examined every decade following a census to represent population changes.
Fredrick Brewington, a Long Island civil rights attorney, said the growth of Hempstead’s population on its western town border makes the creation of three minority-majority districts not only acceptable, but expected.
The 2020 census showed a 12 percent drop in the town’s white, non-Hispanic population, while the Hispanic and Latino population grew 32 percent, and the Black population 4 percent.
Brewington explained the dangers of “packing” and “cracking” — giving one side an advantage in a single district, but no others, or simply breaking up voter blocs so a particular type of candidate can’t get enough support to win. These methods threaten the voting rights of people of color, he said, making it imperative there is no map that is gerrymandered in a partisan way, as it could violate the New York Municipal Home Rule Law.
They are also two ways the League of Women Voters say dilute minority voting strength.
“This is not a pipe dream,” Brewington said. “African American and Hispanic communities are living in close proximity of each other, our brothers and sisters who are Black and brown in the Town of Hempstead are not due any less level of representation than any person of the whiter hue.”
A new map of Hempstead town council districts is expected as early as the new year, with the next public hearing scheduled soon afterward. While the town attorney invited those with concerns to submit comments electronically at tinyurl.com/HempsteadRedistrict, not everyone is confident those comments will be taken seriously.
“I wanted to escape the racial and political gerrymandering — as a Southerner, no one warned me that Long Island is actually more segregated than the South,” said Skylar Bader, of West Hempstead. “We demand the redistricting be fair and representative of who our community is, not packing and cracking racially marginalized communities.”