Baldwin, NY

Praying While Black: Arrested at a Baldwin prayer vigil, a U.S. Marine and his nephew go to trial


It was time.

The phone call came that morning: Her 24 year old son, three weeks on life support, was gone.

May 16, 2020. She gave consent.
Night descends on Baldwin. In 2020, police converged on what they assumed was a violent black mob but turned out to be a prayer vigil.Photo byC.J. Teevan

Word flashed throughout the Oden Family. Cousins, brothers, sisters, friends, aunts and uncles and adoring grandparents would meet in Baldwin, where they always went to share these deep and darkest moments, together. This is a big family, and it's what they do and where they go on Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day, birthdays, weddings, for everything that matters.
Police were called to break up a "disturbance" in Baldwin. The whole family met there to grieve the loss of a 24 yr old relative.Photo byC.J. Teevan

As the day grew long, they came, spilling into the street. They laughed. They cried. They sang. Life was cruel, and always too short, in those COVID days, when people died alone.

The sun set. Someone lit candles and set them on the grass outside the house on Dean Drive and Shell Street. In the evening shadows, no one saw the patrol car. A Nassau County Police Officer watched the men and women. He inquired. "A prayer vigil," someone told him, he testified on Monday in the Mineola courtroom of Judge Howard Sturim here on Long Island, where two members of the Oden family are on trial for their alleged crimes that night.

A Police Officer testified that he told retired U.S. Marine Furnie Oden IV to get his family out of the street. The grief-stricken Oden, who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, replied: I'll see what I can do.
The Nassau County Police Dept's First Precinct on Merrick Road.Photo byC.J. Teevan

More backup arrived. Some came from the 1st Precinct Headquarters on Merrick Road, 2.8 miles away, in 2 minutes, according to an officer who testified today. People on the lawn began to panic as law enforcement charged into the street. One police car parked on the lawn. Police testified they heard bottles breaking. They heard yelling and cursing. They plotted their next move. These black people were not there to pray.

Outraged to find law enforcement imposing on this sacred rite of passage, a young man began to curse at them.

Police ordered again: Shut down the gathering, move out of the street, break it up! Furnie Oden IV replied, said the officer, that he was unable to stop young men from swearing at them. It's a Constitutional right, he said. It's his freedom of speech. It's what Oden IV fought for, why he risked his life for his country.
The Baldwin neighborhood, off Grand Street. A police officer testified today in the trial of Furnie Oden IV and Jaquan J Oden.Photo byC.J. Teevan

There was more screaming and panic as police moved in, documented on cellphones and on Furnie Oden's own 911 call -- a call that ended when he was arrested. Witnesses say police hurled night sticks, sprayed Mace, aimed Tasers. Police testiied on Monday they chased one young man into a house, another through a back yard.

The cellphone recordings were presented as evidence of this sweep, documenting sounds of a terrified family and a violent armed law enforcement mob. The videos are being played for the jury and for testifying witnesses. Some recordings depict tiny pinlights believed to be gun lasers flashing on the backs, the necks, the shoulders of those assembled. Oden IV called 911 pleading for them to call off the police, who testified they merely went to force the group out of the street and did not care who was there to pray.

It's his freedom of speech. It's what he fought for. Why he risked his life for his country.

The First Precinct Police arrested 10 people that night. The next morning, the NCPD circulated a press release, complete with labelled mug shots, with names and charges of the arrested people. while announcing that 4 officers suffered minor injuries.

Newsday: 10 arrested in disturbance outside Baldwin home

L.I. Herald: Police arrest 10 for 'large disturbance' in Baldwin

Fox 5: Large outdoor gathering turns violent, cops hurt

None of the published articles mentioned the prayer vigil or the grieving family or the young black man who died alone. Newsday's coverage was illustrated with a photograph by freelancer Jim Staubitser, who was alerted by police to meet them at the scene for a photo opportunity. Staubitser's photos showed candles on the front lawn at Dean Drive and the silhouettes of uniformed police, prowling outside the house with weapons, raiding the "disturbance".

Press coverage of that night told one side of the story, based entirely on the press release circulated by the Nassau County Police. Headlines the next day failed to mention the death of the 24 year old relative, or the prayer vigil. No one spoke with the Oden family or a single one of their 10 lawyers.

And they still haven't.

CBS: 10 People Facing Charges After Violent Confrontation with Police

Newsday: 10 arrested in disturbance outside Baldwin home, 4 officers arrested
The Baldwin house where the Oden family came to mourn the loss of a 24-year-old relative. They shared memories on Facebook, then came here.Photo byC.J. Teevan

In court this week, the first police officer on the scene testified he did not hear breaking glass and screaming -- until his backup arrived.

Of those 10 people who were arrested that night, 5 promptly accepted plea offers from the Nassau County District Attorney's office. One defendant passed away -- his death accelerated, say relatives, by the stress of fabricated criminal charges against him and his closeknit family.

Two men in the Oden family who are determined to fight the criminal charges are on trial together in Mineola.

Furnie Oden IV, a decorated Marine, is represented by Lloyd Nadel, Esq. After two years of adjournments, Oden's only surviving charge is Obstructing Governmental Administration, a Misdemeanor. He refused the DA's plea offers.

Jaquan Oden, 29, is represented by John Healy, Esq. He is charged with 3 Felonies and 4 Misdemeanors, including Assaulting Police, Rioting, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, Obstructing Governmental Administration and yelling public obscenities.

Their lawyers are cross-examining police officers in the Mineola courtroom this week

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Civil rights activist and investigative journalist C.J. Teevan has covered L.I. news for the New York Times, computerized consumer products for Gannett Newspapers, and retail trends for business magazines. She lives in Roslyn, N.Y. with 3 dogs.

Roslyn Heights, NY

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