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Advocacy groups plan George Floyd protest outside Nassau Legislature, and North Shore officials weigh in

Demonstration to take place June 1


A coalition of Nassau County advocacy groups is planning a protest, "Justice for George Floyd," outside the Nassau County Legislature and Executive Building on Monday, June 1.

The planned demonstration follows the Memorial Day death of Floyd, 46, an African-American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes before he stopped speaking or moving.

Police, according to authorities, were responding to a report of a man attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a local shop. 

The Nassau protest is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and organizers are calling for it to be peaceful and socially distanced.

“I’m coming out today because of the injustices that are occurring all around the country,” said protester Deborah Rothar, of Syosset. “I feel the need to show solidarity with the African-American community. Although I don’t understand necessarily, I will stand with them and I will speak out against police brutality.”

Legislator Josh Lafazan, an Independent from Woodbury, said he will be attending the protest to show his support as both a civilian and an elected official.

“I’m the grandson of a Holocaust refugee,” Lafazan said, “so I was raised to speak out against injustice. I’m going to show my solidarity with people in Nassau County who are calling to build a more equitable and just world.”

Lafazan said he hopes the people of Nassau County engage in a peaceful protest, as he said the violence and looting occurring in riots across the country are not emblematic of who Americans are as a society.

“You can be an avid supporter of law enforcement, just as I am,” Lafazan said, “while also believing that nationwide reforms need to be made so that what happened to George Floyd never happens again.”

“My call to everyone protesting tonight and across the country,” he added, “is to engage in the peaceful protests allowed by our constitution but not lose sight of who we are.”

Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, also said she is in support of a peaceful protest taking place tonight.

“We’ve been very lucky in Nassau County that it’s all been very peaceful,” DeRiggi-Whitton said, “and I think [protesting is] being done in intelligent ways…We’re in this situation, and hopefully good can come from it.”

DeRiggi-Whitton said a majority of Nassau County police officers receive sensitivity training at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, which she said is very fortunate for the people of Nassau. She said it is a valuable program to have and that she wishes it was given nationwide.

Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman, who is also the president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, said he is a card-carrying member of the NAACP and a supporter of peaceful protesting.

“As a firm believer in civil liberties and civil rights and a student of the constitution,” Lieberman said, “I would support any peaceful protests permitted under the law in light of the tragic death of George Floyd. I encourage anyone who does participate to follow all lawful orders, as well as protocols regarding Covid-19 guidelines.”

Lieberman, a criminal lawyer and former chief of the Nassau County District Attorney’s civil rights unit, said he believes it is important to address law enforcement’s protocols when subduing individuals, as well as American society’s quest for social justice.

"Stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters to end police brutality, mass incarceration and systemic racism," reads a post by the Young Progressives of Nassau County on Facebook. Protesters are asked to wear masks. "Feel free to drive by in your car as well," the Young Progressives' post states as well.

Indivisible of Nassau County,  formerly Indivisible of Rockville Centre, also posted the announcement of the protest on its Facebook page.

According to both groups, among the other demonstration sponsors will be the Hempstead NAACP, Freeport/Roosevelt NAACP, the Nassau County chapter of the National Action Network, the Anti-Racism Project and Americans of Pakistani Heritage.

Mike Fricchione, spokesman to County Executive Laura Curran, said, "Everyone has a right to peacefully protest."

Security measures, he said, "are being put in place," adding, "We'll have more to say at a later time."

A representative of the Nassau County Police Department asked that this reporter call back Monday morning for more.

As of Sunday afternoon, protests against police brutality had swept across the nation, in nearly 70 cities, including in New York City, according to The New York Times. At times, they turned violent, as was the case in the city Saturday night.

On Saturday in Brentwood, in Suffolk County, there was a peaceful demonstration, attended by dozens of protesters who practiced social distancing.

On Friday, Curran tweeted her statement on Floyd's death. It read, "I was horrified after watching the video of the death of George Floyd and hearing his cries. I believe charges must be brought to ensure the accountability and justice all should expect in our nation."

Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but as of press time Sunday, none of the other three officers at the scene had been charged.

"This cruel act," Curran continued, "does not represent the vast majority of police officers who, with professionalism and honor, serve and protect our communities. Nassau is committed to community policing because it works. Building trust works, and we always strive to do better."

Governor Cuomo spent much of his Sunday coronavirus briefing addressing the protests that had turned violent, including in New York City. Racism is the central issue at hand, he noted.

"People are outraged, and I understand that. I'm outraged," he said, speaking of Floyd's death.

He said, however, that "violence never works.

"Burning down your own house never works," he added. "It dishonors Mr. Floyd's death.

"The goal has to be effecting change," Cuomo said. "Don't tell me we can't change ... Use this moment to demand real change."

According to the governor, people must demand that federal and state legislation be enacted to:

Prohibit local investigations of officer-involved deaths. Any such investigation should be conducted by an impartial third party, he said.

Define one standard of excessive police force across the nation.

Require the release of officers' records in cases such as Floyd's death.

"Be smart, be directed," the governor said. "Help your community, don't hurt your community.

"George Floyd," he said, "must not have died in vain," while adding, "Ninety-nine, point nine percent of police officers are good, hard-working people" working for the benefit of the communities they serve.