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Democratic clubs in Lakeview, Rockville Centre open up the dialogue on racism


The Lakeview and Rockville Centre Democratic clubs addressed racism at an inaugural joint meeting on May 9. The guest speaker, civil rights attorney Fred Brewington, a Lakeview native, spoke about racism’s prevalence on Long Island.

“Everything that we have tried to achieve over the past 40 to 50 years in terms of trying to turn this around has been turned on its ear,” Brewington said. “We are on the precipice, or the re-emergence, of the need for civil rights activism.”

Several activist groups and local organizations attended the meeting, including Raising Voices, New York Communities for Change, the Malverne School District, the Lakeview Youth Federation and Key Women of America.

“There are issues that concern both of our communities,” said H. Scottie Coads, president of the Lakeview Democratic Club. “Lakeview has always been a close member with Rockville Centre for many, many years, but we hope that after this evening, we can turn this into [an] annual event.”

“We both understand that there’s a great divide that exists in our country and on Long Island,” said Dr. Louise Skolnik, co-president of the Rockville Centre Democratic Club. “I can’t think of any better way to cross that divide than by working together on the causes that we’re passionate for.”

Long Island is more segregated by race than by income, according to ERASE Racism. Black and Latino families, regardless of their incomes, encounter high levels of segregation. On average, black households whose residents earn more than $75,000 per year live in neighborhoods with no greater concentration of whites than black households earning less than $40,000.

West Hempstead resident Scott Banks, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, spoke about the importance of New York state’s new bail reform bill, passed last month. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed on reforms that would result in the elimination of cash bail in about 90 percent of cases. They also reached a deal to reform the criminal discovery process — the period before a trial when a defendant’s attorneys obtain evidence — and to ensure that trials happen faster.

“People were kept in jail just because of their poverty, their color or their race,” Banks said. “We have to continue to bring these issues up, and we have let our legislators know what we’re thinking.”

Many people in the audience commented that starting a conversation about racism with friends was difficult. “The problem that exists in our communities [is] that we don’t talk anymore,” Brewington said. “You’d be amazed at how little your neighbor knows about what’s taking place here on these streets. The conversations can’t be done artificially. It’s hard to change people’s minds, but if each of us in this room tonight can affect at least one person, then we’re on the right path.”