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Brothers from West Hempstead hope for change

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Protesters, led by West Hempstead brothers Terrel and Tiandre Tuosto, were back in East Meadow on June 16. The protest was held in the same place where three men, including the Tuostos, were arrested and charged with disorderly contact at a similar protest four days earlier.

One of the June 12 arrests was captured in a video that showed officers throwing Terrel to the ground and pinning him to the pavement before handcuffing him. Tiandre was arrested shortly before the video was taken. Now the video is being investigated by the Nassau County Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit.

On June 16, the brothers were back at the East Meadow Mall parking lot with a group of roughly 100 demonstrators protesting systemic racism and police brutality. The group marched for four hours, heading east on Hempstead Turnpike, then north on Carman Avenue, east on Hearth Lane and north on Friends Lane, which circles back to Hearth Lane. From there, protesters headed west on Hearth,  south on Carman and west on Hempstead Turnpike, back to the mall.

Terrel, 28, recalled facing racism for the first time when he was 8 and a boy on the playground threw a ball at his face and called him a “Hershey’s Kiss.” When he told the principal, he recalled, she said she knew the boy and his family and that he would never do that. “I’ll never forget it,” Terrel recounted. “It made me feel like I’d never have anyone on my side.”

Terrel is biracial. He never knew his white mother’s family because they disowned her when she married a black man, he said. Even indirect acts of racism made an impression on him as a child, when he would get looks from strangers.

“Little by little I would stand up for myself,” he said, adding that this was the first time he had protested with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The first protest he and Tiandre organized was on June 4, when 500 people marched onto the Southern State Parkway in North Merrick and shut it down for about two hours.

“When I’m usually in segregated neighborhoods like that, I feel uncomfortable, like people are watching me and monitoring me,” Terrel said. “But that night, it felt like I finally had people backing me.”

The decision to move onto the parkway was spontaneous, Terrel said, adding that the group did it to draw attention and amplify the protests’ message.

That night, he said, police worked with them to make sure everyone was safe. But eight days later, in East Meadow, he said, “everything was different.”

At the protest the Tuosto brothers led in Merrick on June 4, both sides of the street were cordoned off for the march. But in East Meadow, demonstrators were permitted to march only on one side of Hempstead Turnpike. Furthermore, Terrel said, it was the first time police officers drove alongside them and rows of officers marched next to them, pushing back those who veered off the route.

After the Tuostos were arrested, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and County Executive Laura Curran defended the officers’ actions in a joint statement that read, “It became necessary” to make the arrests for “the demonstrators’ safety.”

Police added that they were charged with deviating from the route and inhibiting traffic. But, Terrel said, there was no conversation about a designated route prior to the march.

“It seemed orchestrated — like they were looking for a reason to arrest us,” he said. “If they say they want to keep us safe, than why isn’t there a dialogue?”

On June 16, all of Hempstead Turnpike was sectioned off, and the march led into areas that Terrel said they could not go four days earlier.

An approving uncle

“I’ve never seen them so passionate and proud,” said the brothers’ uncle Brandon Felton, 45, of East Meadow, who has been joining them at the protests. 

Felton was born in Brooklyn, moved to Hempstead when he was 7 and Uniondale when he was 12, the same year his mother died. He described his upbringing as tough after that, and said he ran into trouble with the law throughout his adolescence.

Now, he lives in East Meadow, where he is raising seven sons and four daughters. “They’re your typical Honor Roll kids in A.P. classes who do volunteer work and are active in the community,” Felton said.

His hope for his children, he said, is that they won’t have to face the struggles he did growing up. But he still has worries about their interactions with police. He has had numerous talks with them about what they should do if they get pulled over by police while driving.

“I tell them to get the names of the officers,” he said, “keep their hands on the wheel, don’t look them in the eyes too long, don’t say much . . . because once [police] put on the blue suit, they’re conditioned a certain way, even if they’re black. And there are good cops who are wonderful people, but how can you be when you see these horrible things happening and turn a blind eye to it?”

Terrel said that he and Tiandre hope to continue organizing protests, under the name LI Peaceful Protests, and hope to eventually turn their passion into a nonprofit that spreads awareness about systemic racism and police brutality.

“We’re looking to build up our community,” Terrel said, “and open the eyes of people in white neighborhoods who may disagree with us.”

He added that education is one of the most immediate benefits of the protests. Residents of predominantly white communities across Long Island, he said, “have the luxury of pushing racism to the back of their mind because it doesn’t affect them. We’re able to get out into these communities and open up a dialogue.”