More than 1,000 people gathered in East Meadow’s Eisenhower Park last Saturday for a Back the Blue demonstration hosted by the nonprofit Law Enforcement Officers Weekend.
About an hour into the rally, counterprotesters clashed with the pro-police demonstrators, and a counterprotester was arrested after he left a “free speech” area set up by Nassau County police. He was handcuffed and led to a police car as members of the crowd cheered and chanted “Blue Lives Matter.”
The mostly masked crowd was dotted with American flags, “Thin Blue Line” flags and signs with messages in support of law enforcement. The rally was among a series of demonstrations pushing back against efforts to reduce law enforcement budgets or to redirect funding toward preventive resources and social services.
One of the speakers was Darrin Porcher, a former New York City police lieutenant and an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Pace University. “We have elected officials and violent demonstrators driving the narrative that police are out here to kill citizens,” Porcher said. “They think social workers who parachute into our community could do the job of the police.”
The crowd broke into laughter, and Porcher continued, encouraging people to vote for leaders who support law enforcement. “This November could be a referendum on law enforcement if we let it happen,” he said.
After his speech, and many other times during the rally, the crowd chanted, “Four more years!”
Another speaker was retired NYPD Chief Joseph Fox. “We carry those crime scenes, those victims, those officers we lost with us forever,” he said. “They never leave us.”
East Meadow native Susan Richard Kirby read a poem she wrote called, “Back the Blue,” which she dedicated to law enforcement officials. “They only pick the finest. They only pick the best,” she read.
James McDermott, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, told the crowd that police officers all deserve a “pat on the back” and thanks for working nights and holidays and putting themselves in harm’s way to serve the public.
McDermott criticized Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder for what he described as a lack of support for the county Police Department. The night before the event, however, Curran said in a statement, “Our police department is the finest in the country, and our officers deserve admiration in a setting that we can all be proud of.”
Curran’s statement also addressed the controversy that arose because the singer Ted Nugent was set to perform the national anthem at the rally and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a fomer police officer, was also set to speak at the rally.
In 2007, Higgins resigned from his job as a patrol officer for the Opelousas, La., Police Department after an internal investigation alleged that he used unnecessary force against an unarmed Black bystander and tried to cover it up. Higgins now represents Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District.
Both were pulled from the event for not complying with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate that visitors from a number of states must quarantine for 14 days.
During the first half of the rally, roughly a dozen counterprotesters stood in the designated free speech area. Almost two dozen more counterprotesters marched toward the rally from another area of the park, and the smaller group left the roped-off area and joined them. They linked arms and chanted messages like “Black lives matter!” and “No justice, no peace!”
In response, police directed them to return to the roped-off area, asserting that they did not have a permit to protest elsewhere. As they complied, Back the Blue demonstrators could be heard shouting, “Go back to your cages!” “Go back to your mother’s basement!” and “Blue lives matter!”
Some pro-police marchers breached the free speech area, and one repeated, “Maybe if you animals didn’t shoot each other, you wouldn’t have these problems.”
While some of the counterprotesters shouted insults back, many continued to chant together to drown out the louder noise of the larger crowd.
The counterprotesters were from two groups, Black, White, Brown United and L.I. Peaceful Protest. One of the organizers, Terrel Tuosto, 28, of West Hempstead, has led a number of marches in East Meadow and elsewhere on Long Island.
Tuosto and his brother, Tiandre, were arrested on June 12 at a protest in East Meadow. Tuosto's arrest was captured in a video, which later went viral on Twitter, and reveals officers throwing Terrel Tuosto to the ground and pinning him to the pavement before handcuffing him. Now, the video is being investigated by the Nassau County Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit.
Terrel Tuosto was arrested again at last Saturday’s rally, after he, too, left the free speech area with his fist raised. A video he posted to the L.I. Peaceful Protest Instagram page reveals someone inquiring about the nature of the arrest to a police officer, who said that Tuosto’s action was “disturbing the peace.”