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Suffolk County Police

Risco Mention-Lewis, left, was named deputy comissioner in 2012. She said she sees today’s protests as a genuine moment for legitimate reform. File photo

Risco Mention-Lewis, who has been a Deputy Police Commissioner since 2012, talked with TBR News Media about the recent protests on Long Island and about the relationship between the police and communities of color. The deputy commissioner supported the Constitutionally protected right to protest. Mention-Lewis was an assistant district attorney in Nassau County and has served as the first African American Deputy Police Commissioner in Suffolk County. In a wide-ranging interview, which is edited for space, Mention-Lewis offered her candid assessment of the civil unrest and the questions about police triggered by the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the end of May.

TBR: Have you spent time at the protests?

Mention-Lewis: I have not spent a lot of time at the protests. If I can’t [be there], I know somebody who knows somebody. It’s six degrees of separation. I run a support group for previously incarcerated [called Council of Thought and Action, or COTA]. A lot of the guys in that population are marching. Some of them are in the heads of the group, next to the person leading. I can reach out and see if I can have a dialog.

TBR: You did go to Mastic [on June 1]. What happened there?

Mention-Lewis: The young people needed a little conversation and guidance. I was there for 4.5 hours. My knees were so crimped that I couldn’t get into my car.

TBR: What did you do in Mastic?

Mention-Lewis: When they started getting a little out of control, jumping on the Sunrise [Highway], I thought if I could get on the ground and have a conversation, I could help them rethink the way they protest. There’s nothing wrong with protesting. America wouldn’t be here [if we didn’t protest].

TBR: What is your role in these protests?

Mention-Lewis: I’m the Deputy Police Commissioner. The way I look at it, the time we’re in is the time I was born for. My whole career has brought me to be who I am in this moment in time. 

TBR: Can you offer some examples?

Mention-Lewis: All the things I’ve been doing my career are coming together. I’ve been talking about race my entire career. I’ve been talking about disparate treatment in criminal justice. [I have supported] more resources for previously incarcerated people and people of color my entire career. If we want to drive down crime, you have less reentry to do if you do more intervention. We’re focused on the back end, when we could do much more on the front end.

“People in Hauppauge don’t need a Department of Labor as much as people Wyandanch. Why not put resources where they are needed, where people don’t have cars?”

— Risco Mention-Lewis

TBR: What are some of the solutions on the front end?

Mention-Lewis: Police spend a lot of time in minority communities. They are learning to spend time in the community versus as an outsider. They are learning about the youth centers, resource centers. They are talking to those guys on the corner. When I first got here, I hung out on the corner more than I did anything else. I know that was weird. What is the Deputy Police Commissioner doing on the corner? That’s where you get your connections and your influence, getting to know people.

TBR: What sorts of resources do people need?

Mention-Lewis: Part of our job is to make information accessible, to make resources accessible. That’s why I work with [County Executive Steve] Bellone and [Babylon Town Supervisor Rich] Schaffer to make sure the resource center has what is needed in a resource center. If I have to travel two to 2.5 hours on a bus, I’m not getting that resume done. Go online? What if I don’t have Internet. What if I only have a laptop or a cell phone? The resource center needs to have computers. Some communities need a Department of Labor in the neighborhood.

TBR: Like where?

Mention-Lewis: It’s simple, common sense. People in Hauppauge don’t need a Department of Labor as much as people Wyandanch. Why not put resources where they are needed, where people don’t have cars?

TBR: Are protestors talking about any of this?

Mention-Lewis: A lot of protests are talking about [how they want] better. Okay, have you done the research?

TBR: Have the police been effective in making community connections?

Mention-Lewis: We’ve done a really good job of getting into our communities. It’s why we didn’t have incidents [during the over 100 protests]. We had people on bikes talking with people before the marches started.

TBR: Are the protests creating change?

Mention-Lewis: Humans navigating life in white skin have the privilege of not thinking about race, until now. However, because they have not thought about it, they often may not know how to think about it. I’m a practical person. I want resources in the community and also help the Police Department Command understand the framing in the moment.

TBR: Are African American residents skeptical of government resources?

Mention-Lewis: One of the largest things that the government and policing need to understand: because of the history of America, Black people, even if sometimes you bring the resources, [think] it’s a suspect resource. There’s the Tuskegee experiment [in which Black men with syphilis didn’t receive treatment, even when penicillin became the standard of care in 1947. The study continued until the press reported it, in 1972].

TBR: What’s the impact of the Tuskegee Experiment?

Mention-Lewis: There’s always this undercurrent of mistrust, and rightfully so. The Tuskegee experiment went into the early 1970s. We’re talking about recent impacts on Black communities. White communities are not aware all the time. When that body was found in Huntington, people think about lynching. The police may not know, but there are six across the country that Black people are paying attention to. If you don’t know the cultural context, it’s difficult to be having the conversation.

TBR: How do you create the cultural context?

Mention-Lewis: If there are suicides or murders, it [doesn’t matter] in the sense of cultural context. People are concerned, even if the police say they are all suicides. Even if the police say they are all suicides, people of color say, ‘we know they don’t always tell us the truth, especially when we die.’

TBR: What can help develop that cultural context?

Mention-Lewis: We talk to leadership. We talk to families. We have a press conference with all of us and not just the police. When we start thinking about cultural context, how do we communicate taking into account that cultural context? It’s the same with recruitment. We have a low number of African Americans in the police department. We have to talk about the 1,000 pound invisible elephant in the room.

TBR: What’s your focus in the Police Department?

Mention-Lewis: Criminal justice and driving down violence in communities.

TBR: How do you think Suffolk County has done in the police department?

Mention-Lewis: We are ahead of the game. We’ve been working with the Department of Justice for many years. The DOJ is saying we have one of the best implicit bias training programs. They asked us to teach the Ferguson [Missouri Police Department, where a white police officer killed Michael Brown in 2014]. We have been doing community relations in a different way for years. We know how to work with leadership, whether that’s minority, Muslim, Black, Jewish. We know to go to leadership in churches and synagogues to get and receive information to be culturally competent.

“We’ve been working with the Department of Justice for many years. The DOJ is saying we have one of the best implicit bias training programs.”

— Risco Mention-Lewis

TBR: What are you doing to improve the process?

Mention-Lewis: We are doing traffic stop data to look at whether the stops are fair and just. We are doing a community survey to ask how we are doing. How do you know unless you ask? 

TBR: Who is looking at the traffic stop data?

Mention-Lewis: The Finn Institute.

TBR: What do you expect the Institute’s research on traffic stops will show?

Mention-Lewis: That we have work to do, but we’re willing to do it. Most data will always reveal you have work to do.

TBR: What is the methodology of the Finn study?

Mention-Lewis: With the data collection, the study will show when an officer stops a car, the race, date, time and location [of the traffic stop]. If we look at this person’s history, there might be an issue here that we can fine tune.

TBR: The results could show a range of responses, right?

Mention-Lewis: You give the rules, you test to see whether the rules are in place, then you retrain or you congratulate, depending on what’s going on.

TBR: Are you pleased that the SCPD is conducting this study?

Mention-Lewis: We are not perfect. What we have in place are systems to check the system. The community is checking us, too. The community is not just complaining to one another. They are making complaints to us.

TBR: Why isn’t the SCPD using body cameras?

Mention-Lewis: The biggest reason is the cost. It’s millions of dollars for the cameras plus the storage. It’s a great idea. We should have them, eventually. They are going to be across the United States.

TBR: What do you think of the justice system?

Mention-Lewis: We are moving in the right direction as a county. The courts should follow suit because we know with sentencing, statistically, nationally, there are issues. All this is, is an opportunity for every aspect of society to look in the mirror and say, ‘what can I do and what knowledge do I need to do my best effort?’

TBR: How do you think the police has responded to protests?

Mention-Lewis: We don’t say we are a community response unit. We are not looking to respond when something happens. That’s not our relationship with the community. We do community relations. We want to have a relationship year-round. When something happens, that’s not the first time you’re talking to us. Whatever community we’re in, we’re looking to be a part of the solution, working with the community to problem solve. We have people on bike patrol getting to know the protesters at every march.

TBR: Do you think people believe the police are protecting and serving them?

Mention-Lewis: There’s two cultures in policing: the warrior and the guardian. The warrior is what many departments have become. The guardian is what is being promoted as what we should be. Those are just words. How do our actions correspond with that? Black communities in particular have had more of a warrior treatment. How do we partner with the community to listen and deal with problems differently in those communities, effectively but differently?

TBR: Do the police serve the variety of communities effectively?

Mention-Lewis: You should be able to sit down with us and express what you feel we should have done differently. We should be willing to listen. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to walk away satisfied. We will try to figure out how to do it better.

TBR: Have protestors asking for anything unreasonable?

Mention-Lewis: The Mastic kids were asking for a youth center, or some place where they can have activities. That’s reasonable. They were asking for criminal justice reform. Okay, do your research so you know what that means. Be an educated protestor. I haven’t heard ‘defund the police.’ If someone says, ‘no racist police.’ We shouldn’t be offended by that. If they say, no f-ing police, that’s offensive. Some people want to yell in people’s faces unguarded. We have to deal with that as professionals. They are not yelling at us anyway. They are yelling at the officer on the Internet. We are carrying ourselves well through the process.

TBR: How is the police department doing in recruiting people from all communities?

Mention-Lewis: We worked hard with the community to recruit people of color. In the last recruitment class, 34 percent of the applicants identify as people of color. That hasn’t happened in the history of the department. Right now, there are 2 percent [African Americans] in the department. We’re not perfect, but we are doing the damn thing.

TBR: What are some of the easiest things to change?

Mention-Lewis: All departments should have implicit bias training. Across the country, I didn’t know this, we banned chokeholds 30 years ago and there’s still people doing it today. We need national standards for policing so that when people across the country have other rules, they don’t affect our reputation. We’re not perfect.

Police acquired several million dollars worth of drugs during a seizure of several Suffolk County residents. Photo from DA's office.

Suffolk County district attorney, Tim Sini (D), announced three people in Suffolk and two from New Jersey were indicted in an alleged multimillion dollar drug trafficking ring, with officials saying they seized over a million in cash, 19 kilograms of drugs and numerous guns during the takedown.

Police took millions of dollars in cash from three Suffolk County residents as part of a drug smuggling ring bust. Photo from DA’s office

Sini announced in a press release that James Sosa, 25, of Wading River, Anthony Leonardi, 46, of Coram, and Brian Sullivan, 24, of Lake Grove, and two other individuals from New Jersey allegedly helped purchase and ferry narcotics, including cocaine and heroin, from the West Coast to Long Island partially during the pandemic. The group used residential homes in Lake Grove, Wading River, Port Jefferson Station, Coram, Selden and Brentwood, the DA said.

Sini worked with Suffolk County Police Department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.

“The magnitude of this drug distribution ring is enormous; they were responsible for peddling millions of dollars in narcotics on an almost weekly basis,” Sini said in the release. “Not only did this organization continue their illicit operation during the coronavirus pandemic, they were also exploiting the limited availability of certain narcotics during the health crisis to generate even greater profits off their sales.”

The DA, Suffolk police and DEA launched the investigation in May 2019 investigating Sosa, Sullivan and their associates. The group allegedly used multiple methods to get the drugs to the East Coast, including cross-country trips in vehicles and airplanes and even through the mail. Police executed warrants June 27 at locations within the six hamlets, which the DA said resulted in seizing 16 kilograms of cocaine, 2 kilograms of heroin, about $1.5 million in cash, around 4,000 oxycodone pills, nine firearms, along with “numerous luxury vehicles” and equipment the DA said is used for packaging and selling drugs. The police had also seized an additional kilogram of cocaine earlier in the investigation. The cocaine had an estimated street value of $1.6 million and the heroin was worth about $520,000.

Dashawn Jones, 33, of Passaic, New Jersey, was charged with allegedly operating as a major trafficker and first-degree drug possession. Anthony Cyntje, 22, also of Passaic, was charged with first-degree drug possession and was described as being employed as a correction officer in New Jersey.

“This investigation exemplifies how drug traffickers have been impacted by the coronavirus; adapting smuggling methods, transportation routes and money laundering operations to maintain security and social distancing,” said Ray Donovan, New York DEA special agent in charge.

Sosa, who was charged with two counts as a major trafficker, among other counts, was arraigned June 28 with bail set from $7.5 million cash or bond. Sosa’s attorney, Glenn Obedin, a criminal defense lawyer in Central Islip, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sosa, Sullivan and Jones each face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the top counts, Leonardi 12 1/2 to 25 years and Cyntje 8 1/3 to 25 years, Sini said.

Stock photo

For the first time since June 12, Suffolk County reported no deaths from COVID-19.

“I do hope and pray that it will not be another 17 days for me to be reporting zero deaths again,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily call with reporters. “Hopefully, this is the start of something we will continue to see.”

The total number of deaths from the virus in the county remained at 1,979.

The number of positive tests, meanwhile, was 33, bringing the total to 41,339. With 4,481 people receiving tests in the past day, the positive tests were among the lowest the county has had in weeks, at 0.7 percent.

The number of people who tested positive for the antibody who didn’t have a positive COVID-19 test was 19,074.

Hospitalizations continued to trend slightly lower. The number of people in the hospital overall fell by three to 72. The number of people in Intensive Care Units with COVID-19 also declined by three to 23.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 68 percent, down from 70 percent the day before. ICU bed occupancy was at 62 percent.

An additional 20 people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

Separately, the county announced a plan, starting today, to walk back some protective measures put in place for Suffolk County Transit. In March, the county asked residents to use fast fare. Busses did not take cash, riders had to board from the back of the bus, and residents needed to leave the first few rows of the bus vacant to protect drivers.

Now that the county is in Phase 3, Suffolk County Transit has re-instituted front door boarding and will accept cash, even as it is encouraging riders to use the mobile app.

The county has provided protective barriers on all busses to keep the drivers safe from infection. Riders are still required to wear face coverings until further notice.

Finally, officers in the Third Precinct arrested Pablo Figuero, a convicted sex offender, last night at 10:20 pm. He was found in a parked car on Suffolk Avenue in Central Islip and was charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th Degree. He was taken for arraignment today and will be held in jail. Bellone said he is wanted out of New Mexico.
This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

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Port Jefferson Marina. File Photo

Police said they responded to an incident in Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday when 16 people were found sick with carbon monoxide poisoning on a boat docking at a Port Jeff marina.

Captain Ryan, a 35-foot private boat, was traveling from City Island in the Bronx to Port Jefferson when multiple people onboard became sick with carbon monoxide poisoning at around 2 p.m. June 28. Suffolk County Police said the boat was able to dock at Danford’s Marina with 16 out of 17 people on board sick. Marine Bureau and 6th Precinct police officers, members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Brookhaven Town Bay Constables and Fire Marshals responded to the dock and determined there was carbon monoxide inside the cabin of the boat, effecting 12 adults and four children ages 10 to 13.

The origin of the carbon monoxide is under investigation but has been ruled non-criminal, police said. After a safety inspection of the vessel, two tickets were issued for having expired safety flares and having less than the required number of life jackets aboard.

The patients were transported via ambulance to Stony Brook University Hospital, St. Charles Hospital and Mather  Hospital for treatment.

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Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the drowning death of a woman in Fort Salonga.

Fourth Precinct officers responded to a Fort Salonga home June 24 at approximately 6:10 p.m. after a resident called 911 reporting a woman floating in his backyard pool. When officers arrived, they found Carol-Jean Werkstell unresponsive in the water.

Werkstell, 76, was transported to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown where she was pronounced dead.

Annemarie Lopez holds a police pin for her brother Christie Masone, an officer who died in the line of duty June 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

Crowds numbering in the several hundreds rallied at the corner of Route 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station June 22 calling for people to support police. It was a counterpoint to the over 100 protests all across Long Island calling for an end to police violence for the past several weeks.

People waved thin blue line flags and held signs supporting police reading “back the blue” and “respect and honor our law enforcement.”

The pro-police rally came three weeks after a protest against police violence in the same location, which some local progressive activists have called “resistance corner.” Some came with flags, signs or hats supporting President Donald Trump (R). Most people in the crowd at the June 22 rally were not wearing face masks, compared to other recent protests where the majority were wearing some kind of face covering.

Suffolk County Police officers stood at both sides of the protest line and entrance to the small park, and others milled about the crowd, with many people thanking them for their service. Most cars passing by honked in support, though there was a small number of counter protesters holding signs supporting Black Lives Matter on the other side of Route 347. Towards the start of the rally a woman pulled to the side of the road and got out of her car, cursing at the people standing on the sidewalk who responded with expletives of their own before a cop came by to tell her to get back in her car.

People at the rally said police have become disrespected since the start of the nationwide protests after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody. Though they admitted what the police did in that situation was wrong, when one officer leaned his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until EMTs arrived, they said most cops want to do good.

Annemarie Lopez, of Port Jefferson, said she was at the rally in remembrance of her brother, Christie Masone along with his partner Norman Cerullo who were shot and killed in the line of duty in 1978.

“There are good cops and bad cops, but these are people putting their lives on the line,” Lopez said.

Others said the calls for police budgets to be cut will ultimately make the Island less safe.

“Cops are being treated unfairly — this will be detrimental to our safety, we don’t need cuts to police,” said Maria Leonette, a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association had a large presence, sporting a trailer which handed out water to people during the hot June afternoon.

PBA President Noel DiGerolamo saw it as an incredible turnout that showed a “humbling support for the men and women of law enforcement. The silent majority isn’t silent anymore.”

At the height of the rally, the crowds gathered under the trees in the center of the park to hear people speak, including former chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party John Jay LaValle, who was introduced as a spokesperson for Trump.

One of the two main organizers for the rally, Jonathan Stuart of Manorville, said “I could not let the broad stroke of social justice, virtue signaling and cancel culture paint all the police in the shot of the heinous death of George Floyd,” adding, “Is every person who puts on their bullet proof vest, turn their radio on, holster their pistol, shine their badge and kiss their family goodbye a murderer? No. Racist? No.”

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Protesters stood on the side of Route 25A in Rocky Point June 12 to call for an end to police brutality and racism in general. Photo by Kyle Barr

Well over 100 peaceful protesters lined Route 25A in Rocky Point June 12, calling for an end to police brutality and more in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd’s killing in police custody almost three weeks ago.

A number of area locals and other Long Island residents crowded the sidewalk in front of the Kohl’s shopping center. Suffolk County Police were present, mainly asking protesters to keep off the road for safety reasons.

A diverse crowd of multiple races and ages shouted slogans such as “black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe,” also the last words of Floyd and Eric Garner, who was killed during a police chokehold in New York City in 2014. Several passing cars honked their horns in support.

Jim Sweeney, a Selden resident, said the protests today have shown much more diversity than those in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, though so many of the problems remain the same as they were over half a century since.

“Everyone wants to say its one bad cop, its one bad cop, but there were four cops who killed George Floyd, there were supervisors who falsified the report, there was a medical examiner who tried to say it wasn’t murder — how did Floyd run into seven bad people in one instance?” Sweeney said. “If Floyd was white, he wouldn’t have even been handcuffed.”

Other protesters said they have been calling for an end to black oppression for many years.

“I’m a privileged white woman, who no matter what obstacles in my life I have been able to overcome them, but I can’t say the same for my black brothers and sisters, so I want to stand here in support of them,” said Mary Cappasso.

While many residents wrote on social media, they feared violence from the protests, all still remained peaceful.

“We’re protesting because black Americans deserve the same rights that everyone else already has and they’ve been oppressed too long, it’s time to speak up,” said Nikita Narsingh, of Mount Sinai. “If there’s any time it’s now,”

Sound Beach resident Emily Marciano came to the protest with her son, Dontae. She is white, while her son is black. She said it’s systemic racism as a whole that needs reform, not just the police.

“Whenever I see [police violence against minorities] it scares me to think … I’ve also been told by someone in the area ‘you don’t shoot deer, you do black people,” she said. “It scares me when my son goes out, wondering if he could come home or he could not come home, if someone sees him and doesn’t like the color of his skin.”

Stock Photo

In a milestone indicative of how deadly and prolonged the toll of the virus has been, Suffolk County reported the first day without a death from COVID-19 since March 16.

“I’m finally able to say that no one in Suffolk County in the last 24 hours has died from COVID-19,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “That’s a great place to be.”

While Bellone said the county, which entered Phase Two of its reopening Wednesday,  June 10, still has a ways to go before it controls the spread of a virus that has claimed the lives of 1,945 people in the county, the day without a death from the pandemic is a “milestone.”

With many other states, including Texas and North Carolina, are experiencing a surge in the number of people diagnosed with the virus and being admitted to hospitals for their care, Suffolk County continues to experience a decline in the number of residents testing positive.

Indeed, in the last day, despite protests over the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of a former police officer charged with murder, the number of people who tested positive in the county only increased by 47, raising the total to 40,559.

Bellone attributed the current condition on Long Island to the pain, uncertainty and suffering that rocked Long Island, which was the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

“Because of the experience we’ve gone through, overwhelmingly, people are taking precautions,” Bellone said. “They are still listening to the guidance. Even at protests, even at demonstrations, I have seen people wearing face coverings.”

Suffolk County also has an advanced testing and contact tracing system that is making a difference as the area reopens.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order requiring local police agencies to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s plan must include procedures and practices that extend beyond the use of force by April 1, 2021.

The police forces have to engage the public in the process, present a plan for comments, and share that plan with a local legislative body. If the government doesn’t certify the plan, the police may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

Bellone said he “looks forward to working with the state” on community police policies. The county executive said he is proud of the work the Suffolk County Police Department has done with anti-bias training.

The SCPD has “developed leading edge initiatives.”

Cuomo also signed a bill passed by the state senate earlier this week repealing 50-a, a statue in civil law that prevented people from accessing records of police and other civil servants like firefighters. Advocates said this will allow more transparency, especially regarding police misconduct. Police unions and senate republicans said this would puts cops in more danger, despite proponents saying people cannot gain access to cops’ personal information.

Bellone reemphasized a point he has made in recent days amid the backlash against unjust and unfair policing polices, suggesting that the police are “part of the community, they aren’t coming into the community” from the outside.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said she met this morning at 11 a.m. with the President of the Guardians, which is an internal fraternal organization representing black officers. She meets with the Guardians on a monthly basis.

Officers in the Guardian “know they have accessibility to leadership,” Hart said. “Those conversations lead to suggestions.”

The discussion this morning was more informal and was part of an open conversation and dialog.

As for the impact of COVID-19 in the county, the numbers continue to show a hard-fought recovery from the deadly virus.

Hospitalizations in the 24 hours ending on June 10 declined by 17 to 134. The number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit also declined by four to 41.

“These are all great numbers,” Bellone said.

An additional 16 people were discharged from hospitals in the county.

The bed capacity remained below important levels. Residents with COVID-19 represented 66 percent of the overall beds, and below 60 percent of the ICU beds, which are below the 70 percent guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The county handed out 17,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the last day.

Finally, the county worked with Island Harvest to distribute food through a program called Nourish New York today.

The effort, which was at the Westfield South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, planned to distribute 100,000 pounds of food, including cheese, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables and ground beef.

The program “helps those in this desperate time who need food” while preventing waste and supporting the agricultural community, Bellone said. Through 2 p.m., the program had handed out more than 2,500 boxes of food items.

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County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he is looking forward to getting a haircut tomorrow, as the county moves into Phase Two of its reopening.

“I have not seen so many people excited about the prospect of getting a haircut or going to the salon gas I have seen over the last week or so,” Bellone said on his daily call with reporters.

In addition to hair salons, car sales, outdoor dining and retail services can restart as the county’s COVID-19 numbers continue to move in the right direction, despite the possibility of an increase in infections amid the approximately 100 protests over the past week and a half in response to the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a police officer.

Bellone was grateful for the peaceful way protestors have expressed their constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment right to express themselves. He also praised the Suffolk County Police Department, including Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Chief Stuart Cameron as well as the men and women of the police force for what he called “improving relations” with the community which have enabled them to keep the peace despite hostile events in many urban areas.

The protests have started a national dialogue which has included a discussion about defunding the police, effectively remodeling the police department so that it focuses on crime while creating other bureaus to handle mentally ill people or face drug addicts. Bellone said he does not support such an initiative, which “doesn’t make any sense.”

He appreciated the work police officers do to fight crime and to investigate various levels of assault and murder.

As the protests continue, Bellone remained confident that the testing and contact tracing in place would enable the county, which has been at the epicenter of the pandemic, would allow the county to respond to any future outbreaks.

Viral Numbers

Over the last day, an additional 49 people have tested positive for COVID-19, which raises the total to 40,426. The number of people who have tested positive for the antibody stands at 15,856.

As of last week, the rate of transmission for the virus on Long Island was between 0.6 and 0.9. A figure above 1 raises the possibility of the spread of the virus.

Hospitalizations declined by three for the day ending on June 7 to 155 people. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds also declined by three to 47.

Residents battling COVID-19 constitute 63 percent of hospital beds overall in the county and 53 percent in the ICU.

Over the last day, an additional 10 people have been discharged from county hospitals.

An additional four people died from complications related to COVID-19 over the last day. The death toll stands at 1,939.

Starting today, Bellone announced a Suffolk Cares program, which will provide food to those in need. Residents can call 311 from Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eligible residents will receive a box of nonperishable food within 24 to 30 hours. Residents who call on Friday will receive food on Monday.

Several hundred people crowded on to the north side of Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook June 7 in one of a series of protests against racial injustice and police brutality from all around Long Island.

Across from Smith Haven Mall, several hundred protesters gathered both along the busy intersection and a small field just behind the police barricades. At one point, police stopped traffic for a time to allow protesters to march down the road. Cars honked horns in support, and some drove by holding their own signs in solidarity with those at the rally.

Protesters shouted lines such as “no justice, no peace.” People also laid on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs, much as Minneapolis man George Floyd was May 25 when the now-fired officer Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck. The crowd shouted while on the ground, “I can’t breathe,” some of the last wods Floyd spoke.

Suffolk County has had around 85 protests since the killing of Floyd more than a week ago, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

All photos by Mike Reilly