In the past week, many Long Islanders have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism and to honor the life of George Floyd.
While many reiterate the importance of voting and have encouraged others to register, local candidates are also listening to the concerns of their prospective constituents. All four hopefuls for the seat in New York’s 2nd Congressional District spoke with the Herald about the Black Lives Matter protests ahead of the June 23 primary.
“The death of George Floyd was a heinous act,” said Republican State Assemblyman Mike LiPetri. “There have been peaceful protests, and that’s great. However, we cannot be [painting with] a broad brush against all law enforcement.”
LiPetri spoke about the impact the police have on people’s everyday lives. Police officers, community leaders and citizens agree that the actions of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were “evil,” LiPetri said, and everyone can unite around peaceful protest.
“As a result of the outcry, protests occurred,” he said. “Protests evolved. Peaceful protests we can unite around. Rioting and looting we cannot. Rioters and looters are taking the good name of the peaceful protesters.”
He added that “antagonistic opportunists” are destroying the purpose of the peaceful protesters’ message with their actions.
“You know, I’m glad that you’ve interviewed all the candidates, because I might have a unique perspective among them,” Democratic candidate Jackie Gordon told the Herald. “One, I’m a black American. Two, I spent 27 years in the military as a military police officer, so I have a law enforcement background.”
Gordon, a former Babylon town councilwoman, said she was heartbroken when she saw the video of Floyd’s death. “The first thing I saw was my son’s face [super]imposed on his face, just for a moment,” Gordon said. “Then my military police background came to mind. Our creed is to protect and defend. Police officers’ creed is to protect and serve. In those minutes, George Floyd wasn’t being protected or served.”
Gordon said she had been to a number of protests in the past week, and she commended the Nassau and Suffolk County police for their handling of those she attended. “I think the departments have done a great job,” she said. “I’ve been to one in Nassau County and a few in Suffolk County. They were great. The police did their job. At some they stood on the side, monitored and were watchful to make sure the people were safe. [At] other protests, they became more engaged and interacted with protesters.”
Democratic candidate Patricia Maher, a former executive of a not-for-profit health care agency and the Democratic nominee in the 2014 congressional race, who is now working on an advanced law degree at Hofstra, said she believed the key to bridging any gaps between police and protesters is mediation by community leaders. “I would like to have regular meetings with police departments and community leaders,” she said. “If we had these on a large scale, these meetings within communities of color and with communities finding it difficult to be understood, letting them come forward and speak, and having police be there to listen. I think that would be very beneficial.”
Maher added that she believed in the police, and that a mixture of dialogue and more nuanced anti-bias training for cadets would benefit the community.
The fourth candidate, Republican Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino spoke about the Long Island protests from Albany. “Peaceful protests are how this country was built,” he said. “Protesting for something they want, they’re doing that. They have to stay peaceful. When they start talking about things like calling for the defunding of the police — if you’re going to have law and order, you can’t just have it some of the time. A cop was arrested for murder. You then can’t support the looting if law and order is what you’re striving for.”
Garbarino added that the Legislature “must not be reactive, but proactive.” He is currently working on reading new bill proposals in the Assembly. “We need to create legislation that addresses the problem and doesn’t swing to the extremes every time,” he said. “Our job is to not stoke the fire. We want to bring everyone to the middle and go, ‘OK, what do you want, and how do we get there?’ Ask community and ask police. We need to create legislation so that the same things don’t happen.”
While protesters are fighting for their needs to be met, police officers, Garbarino said, are under heavy scrutiny, and feel that their jobs are becoming more difficult due to the actions of a few “bad actors” that most police officers do not want to protect. He added that he doesn’t believe there is any inherent or institutional racism in the police force.
LiPetri echoed that sentiment, and Maher said that since she has never been a member of a police department, she couldn’t speak on the topic. Gordon said she respected law enforcement officers, but conceded that it would be hard for her to say definitively that there isn’t a possibility of “some form of systemic racism in an institution like the police.”
Gordon said, “I would say the most important thing to take away right now is that every American life matters. In order for us to move forward as a nation, we have to acknowledge that every single life matters. When one is [ex]tinguished, it cannot be just discarded like trash.”
Maher finished by saying that “change in America comes, but it doesn’t come easy sometimes.”
Garbarino said he was happy that peaceful protesters were using their voice to institute change, but did not agree with the demonization of police.
LiPetri ended by reiterating that the 2nd C.D. needs strong elected officials to advocate for and appreciate first responders, which he would continue to provide if elected.