“We’re scared whenever we see a police car behind us,” said Teria Cunningham of Glen Cove. “We don’t know if we’re going to be pulled over and if we’re going to get attacked.”
Cunningham came to the demonstration in front of the Nassau County Executive Building and Legislature in Mineola on June 1 to protest the use of excessive force by police officers that ultimately led to the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, M.N.
And though she said that peaceful protests on Long Island, like the one on Monday night, is a long time coming, she is glad to see Long Islanders now demanding action. “I’m a black woman, born into this situation,” she said. “And I’m just scared to drive, especially at night. I never know what’s going to happen to me.”
The demonstration followed the Memorial Day death of Floyd, 46, an African-American man who died after 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, responded to a report of a man attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 at a shop.
Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, but as of press time, none of the other three officers at the scene had been charged.
“We are hurting,” said Linda Vanager, the pastor at Hood AME Zion Church in Oyster Bay. “To see one of our people, a human being murdered in front of our eyes is such a monstrosity. Enough is enough.”
Shouting “I can’t breathe" and brandishing handmade signs, protesters from both Suffolk and Nassau counties began arriving an hour earlier than the 5:30 p.m. start time for the “Justice for George Floyd” protest planned by a coalition of Nassau advocacy groups.
“It’s just been going on for so long and for us, for black people, for everyone, it’s just . . . I like the support we’re getting now,” said Amber Shaw, 24, of Glen Cove. “I need the support right now because it’s just becoming too much at this point, it really is.”
Shaw, said she came to the protest with the Glen Cove Next Generation Democrats. “I’m happy I saw everyone from every possible background coming out to [show] support,” she said.
Patrick Ryder, the Nassau police commissioner, also attended the rally. "People are here to speak their minds and get their message across," he said. "What happened in Minneapolis should never have happened. We have a good relationship with our communities. People are exercising their rights, and we hope to continue to do so peacefully."
And after several protesters chanted “Take a knee,” Ryder did. But event organizer Deana Davoudiasl, of Rockville Center, the co-founder of Young Progressives of Nassau County and leader of Indivisible of Nassau County, said she wanted to see more.
“What we really need is him to stand in solidarity with us and work through the problems in our county with respect to police brutality and excessive use of force,” Davoudiasl said.
Yajhayra Reyes of Glen Cove, attended the protest because she too wants to see law enforcement reform. “I think we all need to stand together in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers to end racial injustice,” Reyes said. “We the people definitely have the power to vote for who we want representing us and we need to educate ourselves.”
“We need action done and our senators and legislators need to push for laws that protect our communities and hold police officers accountable,” Reyes added.
Vanager said she supports the protestors. “That’s what we are supposed to do,” she said. “The deep rooted anger is being expressed now. We need a solution but there is a lot of learned prejudice. Something must be done and it begins with leadership. Trump needs to change his attitude.”
Davoudiasl handed out flyers at the event that called for specific legislation that could enhance transparency in New York’s law enforcement. The information requests that state senators and assembly members push for laws that protect communities and hold police officers accountable.
Those changes include the removal of state law section 50-A NY Civil Rights Law, which privatizes police records from the public and the passing of the Police Statistics and Transparency Act, or the Police-STAT Act, which would require data collection and reporting on law enforcement and deaths in police custody. This bill, sponsored by New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, is currently sitting in the State Senate Codes Committee.
Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, an Independent from Woodbury, said he attended 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.”
“You can be an avid supporter of law enforcement, just as I am,” he added, “while also believing that nationwide reforms need to be made so that what happened to George Floyd never happens again.”
On Friday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran tweeted her statement on Floyd’s death, saying that she was horrified by the video and that changes should be made to ensure law enforcement accountability.
“We have to do more than protest and march,” Cunningham said. “We have to get more minorities in Congress, the Senate and mayors. And we have to change some of these judges in order to make a change.”
-Laura Lane and Mike Conn contributed to this story.