Long Island is home to some 8 million people but is often overshadowed by its giant neighbor to the west, New York City. Often misperceived as a more privileged area, Long Island is host to the same class strife and stratification that plague New York City and every city in this country. As part of the growing momentum around the People’s Congress of Resistance, we wanted to highlight some of the local struggles Long Islanders are engaged in.
Justice for Elizabeth Stenson
On May 18, Elizabeth Stenson of Amityville, age 58, was involved in a horrible accident in Hicksville in which two people died. According to people who knew her, Elizabeth had a seizure as she drove and lost control of her vehicle. She immediately surrendered to the police. Showing no sympathy for her medical condition, the Nassau police locked her up and charged her with two murders. While in jail, Stenson and her family desperately tried to access her medications for her heart condition. The authorities ignored her and her attorney’s constant request, and deprived Stenson of her blood pressure medications. Correction officers found her dead from a massive heart attack on May 27.
The Nassau community demands justice for Elizabeth Stenson who according to close friends was an inspiration to all. Having herself survived addiction and the streets, she became a mentor and mother figure for many addicts in Bay Shore and Central Islip.
One friend remembered Stenson “for helping and changing hundreds of lives with her selfless service. She was known for hugging the unhuggable and loving the unlovable. The amount of pain she was carrying from that horrific accident is hard to even imagine. This is extremely sad from all sides.”
Police and ICE murder people
Unfortunately, Elizabeth Stenson’s story is not rare. Twelve inmates have died at Nassau’s jail in the past five years, including Iraq War veteran Bartholomew Ryan, age 32 and Kevin Brown, age 47. The State Commission of Correction found that both of these deaths and many others were preventable. Armor Correctional Health Services has been at the center of the controversy and is facing several lawsuits from the families of the victims for having provided shoddy health care for the Nassau inmates.
These shocking deaths are all too familiar. In 2008 Kenny Lazo was beaten to death while in Suffolk County police custody. In 2003, 18-year-old Sha-Kie Williams stated that while he was handcuffed the police shoved him down an elevator shaft. Williams fell four stories and was hospitalized at Stony Brook but luckily survived.
Brentwood’s Rolando Meza Espinoza died on June 10 while in ICE custody in New Jersey. The Honduran native died of internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock at Jersey City Medical Center. Meza had diabetes, anemia and cirrhosis of the liver and did not receive the attention he deserved. His lawyer Manuel Portela and family assert that ICE made a mistake in apprehending Espinoza who did not even closely resemble the individual they were looking for.
Nine people have died in ICE custody since Trump took office. Meanwhile, private prison stocks have nearly doubled in value since Election Day.
Understanding MS 13: Intervention comes home to roost
The mainstream media specializes in scaring people with horrific tales of MS 13 recruitment tactics and murders. What they never mention are the modern day roots of the massive exodus out of El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Central American countries. “The American Dreamers” would have you believe families just uprooted their lives because the United States is just so great. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the 1980s the U.S. unleashed a series of covert wars against liberation movements in Central America. The CIA and other intelligence agencies misappropriated millions of tax payer’s money to conduct illegal wars against the Sandinistas, the FMLN and other revolutionary movements in the region. When they could not achieve Congressional approval for their dirty wars, the intelligence cabal resorted to the sale of cocaine and crack to raise funds. This was the famous Iran-Contra scandal first uncovered by San Jose Mercury journalist Gary Webb.
The death tolls from the U.S. proxy wars were staggering.
- 75,000 dead in El Salvador
- Tens of thousands slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua
- Hundreds of political “disappearances” in Honduras
- Some 100,000 people murdered in Guatemala
- To this day, the number of dead from the U.S. “Christmas bombing” of Panama in 1989 have yet to be counted.
By making life unlivable, U.S. foreign policy de-futurized entire nations, displaced hundreds of thousands of families and orphaned a generation of children. How cruel and myopic for Trump to brag on Twitter about his “success” in closing the border to Central Americans, considering the historic debt this government has to those nations.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost. On June 13, ICE conducted Operation Matador arresting 45 “confirmed” gang members, many in Central Islip, Brentwood and Bellport which is home to a big Salvadoran and Central American community.
Yes, we should decry the Central Islip deaths and any violent episodes in our communities but we have to dig deeper. Violence begets violence. How short-sighted to engage in sensationalism, denouncing individuals acts of desperation, without analyzing the hate that hate produced. The communities of Central Islip, Brentwood and Bellport are now dealing with the direct consequences of Reagan and the United States’ foreign policy.
ICE and the Suffolk police may provide good headlines and photo ops but they provide no real solutions. There is a certain truth to the statement that “nothing stops a gang bullet like a job.” Investment in jobs and education in Suffolk county and a 180 degree change in U.S. foreign policy are long terms solutions. The children of MS 13 are not the enemy, the barbarous system is.
Opioid nation: a cry for help
In 2016, over 500 people suffered fatal overdoses in Long Island, mostly from heroin and fentanyl. This past month of June, on one weekend, there were 22 overdoses.
Twenty-four-year-old Dylan Caruso was one such victim. A star lefty pitcher and captain of Sachem High School’s baseball team, Caruso overdosed two weeks ago on opiates and died. Displaying absolute callousness before the family’s mourning process, the Suffolk county police waited outside the wake at Claude R. Boyd/Spenser funeral home to harass and eventually lock up Dylan’s older brother.
Families devastated by drug abuse are often survivors of generations of family violence and trauma.
Meanwhile the pharmaceutical industry is making a killing off of our pain. The $1.05 trillion global industry is invested in getting more people addicted to opiates. The fastest growing group of “illegal” heroin addicts are prescription pill addicts who can no longer “legally” fill their prescriptions. The Sackler family—owners of Purdue Pharma, the producer of OxyContin—are worth $14 billion dollars. As the .001 percent counted their profits, 66,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year.
Every hood’s the same
Newsday, owned by Cablevision, is Long Island’s most popular daily and the most widely read “suburban” newspaper in the country. Newsday publishes weekly mugshots that criminalize and dehumanize working people without saying a word about the lives they led.
People are not born criminals. In the words of the Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle: “Poverty is the mother of revolution and crime.”
Predictably, no rich people appear in Newsday’s mugshots because the rich can afford lawyers and can buy their way out of trouble with “the law.”
Nineteen-year-old Keenen King and 20-year-old Anthony Garriques were considered criminals. Why? Because they were young and Black. Believing the two young men had stolen his younger brother’s dirt bike, Marine Christopher Bouchard hunted them down in his minivan and murdered them on June 21st. Bouchard charged into in coming traffic to intentionally ram into the two young men in North Bellport, killing them both. The police only charged Bouchard with reckless endangerment. Why? Because in Long Island, Black Lives do not Matter.
This article focuses on just a few of the injustices that communities are organizing around in Long Island. They are just the tip of the iceberg.
Everyday, the geographically narrow Long Island sees more golf courses, wine vineyards and seasonal housing while working families scramble to make ends meet and find shelter.
Long Island is no different than any other community in the United States of Trump.
Everyday the rich get richer and the poor die off silently. There have been a rise in hate crimes against Muslims and immigrants and a spike in the membership in the local KKK chapter in Hampton Bays. Local chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, Black Lives Matter, Redneck Revolt and other groups have stood together in defense of the communities under attack.
The People’s Congress of Resistance on September 16-17 will bring together representatives of communities affected by addiction, police terror, gentrification and other social problems so we can find solutions to the common problems that plague us across this country.