The Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday afternoon to take up the issue of racism.
The focus of the special meeting is “where to go…taking a proactive approach,” said Anti-Bias Task Force chairwoman Constance Lassandro.
“The most recent days have been a dark, sad time for the Town of Riverhead with the posting on Facebook by an individual who is consumed with anger, hatred and racism,” the task force said in an official statement issued Wednesday night.
The statement came in response to racist rant posted Oct. 15 on Facebook by Dianne Delaney Kozakiewicz, the wife of Riverhead town attorney and former town supervisor Robert Kozakiewicz. The post was widely circulated and debated on the social media platform. The incident subsequently drew widespread media coverage.
As first reported by RiverheadLOCAL Oct. 16, the town attorney apologized for his wife’s behavior, issued an apology for his wife’s behavior and condemned the sentiments she expressed. “Her rant in no way, shape or form reflects my views,” he told RiverheadLOCAL. “I am so very sorry.”
In an interview that morning, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter asked people to pray for Dianne Kozakiewicz, who he said had mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as for her husband, who he described as “a good Christian man.”
Walter also condemned people who re-posted screenshots of Kozakiewicz’s remarks.
“If you see it and you repost it you’re just as guilty in my opinion about propagating that hatred,” he said in an interview Monday morning.
Walter drew sharp criticism from some for his response to the incident.
The supervisor attended the regularly scheduled meeting of the anti-bias task force that evening. The meeting, which members of the community do not typically attend, drew a small crowd of largely African-American residents. The discussion grew heated at times, as residents questioned the supervisor’s focus on substance abuse rather than racism and at least one member of the task force said the town attorney should resign.
By the conclusion of the meeting, task force members agreed the group would work to organize a conference for community discussion.
“This is hurtful and damaging to everyone, no matter the color of your skin. All acts of racism are despicable and create a negative and sometimes dangerous emotional response,” the task force said in its statement two days later.
The task force is now planning to hold community roundtable discussions on the subject of racism, Lassandro said yesterday. It needs to decide who to invite to facilitate the discussions.
Lassandro said the ABTF will also look into partnering with the Riverhead school district to sponsor educational programs on racism.
It will also continue training for task force members as well as officials and members of community.
“The Anti-Bias Task Force will forever stand in unity and categorically rejects any form of hatred, racism, bigotry, intolerance or violence,” Lassandro said.
“We need to make this an opportunity to come together as a community in an open honest and perhaps painful discussion of racism,” she said. “We must dissent from indifference, apathy, fear, hatred and mistrust. We must dissent because Riverhead can do better, because Riverhead does have a choice to do better.”
The Anti-Bias Task Force is asking for volunteers to step forward to join its ranks. Applications for membership are available on the town’s website.
The Tuesday, Oct. 24 special meeting, which is open to the public, will take place at 5:30 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Avenue, Riverhead.
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