More than 100 community activists turned out for a Dec. 6 protest at Refuge Apostolic Church in Freeport to decry the arrest of Freeporter Akbar Rogers, 44, after a viral video of the incident showed Freeport police officers pulling him to the ground and piling on top of him, and at least two officers throwing punches at him and one kicking him while he was lying face down.
Protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” while brandishing picket signs.
In all, seven officers appeared in the video. Rogers, who was arrested on Dec. 3 on outstanding warrants for aggravated unlicensed driving that included driving through the village at 100 mph while being chased by police. He was also wanted in connection with a physical harassment case. Police allege that he pushed a woman to the ground twice, according to Freeport Village Attorney Howard Colton.
When officers attempted to arrest Rogers, he ran off, police said. After running through neighborhoods and across backyards, officers eventually caught up with him. They asked him several times to stop, officials said, but Rogers refused and reached into his waistband. They then wrestled him to the ground.
A bystander captured the video of the incident, which was posted on social media.
The Rev. Arthur Mackey Jr., of Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt, who spoke at the protest, said he believes racial bias factored into Rogers’s arrest, noting that Rogers was black and all of the officers were white. Mackey said they “could have just put the handcuffs on him.”
Nia Adams, a community organizer with the Long Island Progressive Coalition, echoed that sentiment. “They should have, and could have, arrested him without violence, without incident, because we know they do that with white people all the time,” she said.
William Bailey, of Freeport, who is a member of New York Communities for Change, said the incident was not about Rogers’s history, but about the mistreatment that he endured at the hands of police and violations of his constitutional rights.
“These racist cops see us less than human,” Bailey said during the protest. “Since we’ve been released from slavery, it’s the police that reminds us that we are slaves, and as long as there are racist white police, I will never feel safe here in Freeport.”
Protesters demanded that authorities release the names of the officers, as well as their body-camera footage. They also demanded that the officers be placed on administrative leave without pay, and that an independent investigation, that includes the Nassau County district attorney’s office, the New York state attorney general’s office and a grand jury, be conducted.
“Don’t let anyone convince you that he did anything to deserve what happened in that video,” Adams said.
The police officers, according to Colton, are still on duty. “The officers followed appropriate protocols,” he said. “They did nothing wrong, and remain protecting the village.”
The Rev. William Watson Jr., of the Free Will Baptist Church, said he met with police on Dec. 5. “They tried to explain to us that it wasn’t what we saw,” he said. “They tried to explain that it takes nine people to arrest one man unarmed. I am insulted by their statements. We will not accept it. We need action.”
Watson called for the resignation of Freeport Mayor Kennedy, adding that one of his sons was among the arresting officers.
Kennedy called on the Nassau County district attorney’s office to investigate the incident. A spokesperson for District Attorney Madeline Singas said her office would take over the investigation.
“The fact of the matter is this individual had an open warrant for his arrest after a woman wanted to press charges on an assault,” Kennedy said.
According to Kennedy, for the last nine weeks police had tried several times to arrest Rogers, but “he resisted numerous time and threatened the lives of residents of Freeport when he drove through the village at excessive speed.” Even on the day of the arrest, Rogers resisted arrest, Kennedy noted.
“Had he surrendered peacefully, there would have been no incident,” the mayor said, “and he would have probably been released on bail.”
Rogers and his parents appeared at the protest after leaving court. During the protest, he and his family declined to comment. However, several of the speakers said they stood in solidarity to support him.
“For justice, we need accountability,” Adams said. “That’s something that we are lacking here on Long Island, and the cost [is] black lives.”