Last month, over 100 Long Island community leaders and residents packed a forum held in Brentwood in opposition to the state redistricting plan proposed by the New York Legislative Redistricting Task Force (LATFOR) for the state Senate and Assembly. Protestors claim the redistricting lines have been designed to dilute minority voting power by splitting Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Suffolk County like Brentwood, Central Islip and West Babylon into three Senate districts.
“I’m very disgusted that the people in my district are being so disenfranchised. We need to continue to fight,” said panelist Scottie Coads, the civic engagement chairwoman for the state NAACP. Joined by representatives from Common Cause New York, La Fuente and the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, the panel urged the crowd to voice their disapproval of LATFOR’s maps.
“What’s so bad about LATFOR? It is gerrymandering. It’s cutting up our state according to the desires of the political power structure and to satisfy the requirements of the incumbents,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy organization.
The organization has proposed maps that reflect a more accurate demography in Suffolk while maintaining the voting power of communities of color. The growing populations of Latinos, immigrants and African-Americans in Suffolk County should be grouped together so they can elect legislators to represent their needs.
However, LATFOR’s maps have dismantled them into separate, majority-white districts.
Similar to what has occurred in the past, Long Island communities of color have been “cracked” by the new district lines and will have diminished electoral power, Lerner explained.
“Lines have been drawn over the years that pretty much take away our voting power because we are diluted into greater communities,” said Pastor Roderick A. Pearson, president of the NAACP chapter in the Town of Islip. “Tonight is about getting those lines finally redrawn and getting the representation that people of color so desperately need.”
“I live in Brentwood, I love my community, [but] I hate the injustices, the disparities,” said Maxima Castro. “A community like Commack is right next to us [and] they have so much; meanwhile, we’re lacking. I’m here to fight.” According to the census, Commack’s population is over 80 percent white Americans.
In his native tongue, Frank Sprouse, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who now lives in Brentwood, spoke out at the forum. “It seems to me that politicians don’t want a strong voice like mine to be heard in the next election.”
In defense, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for the New York state Senate Republicans, defended LATFOR’s redistricting lines, calling them both “fair” and “legal.”
“We are proud of what we did. We either preserved or strengthened districts,” he told the AmNews. However, Reif said the Senate majority plans to make changes to the maps based on the backlash from communities of color in the upcoming weeks.
“We have another nine additional public hearings that we’ll be holding; we’ve held 14 already,” he said. “We will be making changes to the map lines and we expect to make changes based on some of the feedback raised from communities throughout the state.”