November 7th 2009 marked one year from the day that Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, was killed in the Long Island suburb of Patchogue. But rather than act as a stand-alone instance, the act of violence put a national spotlight on race relations and has emerged as one among dozens of cases of violence against Latinos in Suffolk County over the past ten years.
A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that follows hate groups across the country, found that these attacks were spurred by an atmosphere of racism and fear fostered by anti-immigrant groups and local officials.
Latino immigrants in Suffolk County live in fear…Political leaders in the county have done little to discourage the hatred, and some have actively fanned the flames…Although Lucero’s murder represented the apex of anti-immigration violence in Suffolk County to date, it was hardly an isolated incident.
In one example cited, Michael M. D’Andre, a county legislator from Smithtown, at a 2001 hearing on a bill to penalize contractors who hire undocumented workers said that if his town were “attacked” by an influx of Hispanic day laborers, “we’ll be up in arms, we’ll be out with baseball bats.” He later apologized for his remark.
On November 7th 2008, 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was walking with a friend near Patchogue train station at midnight, when they were surrounded by a group of teens. Lucero’s friend managed to get away but he was unable to do so and after attempting to fend off the attacks with his belt, he was stabbed to death by 18-year-old Jeffrey Conroy. Lucero had lived in the U.S. for 16 years at the time of his death.
Following the arrest of the teens accused of Lucero’s death, a number of Hispanic residents from the area began to come forward with personal stories of acts of hatred and intolerance. It emerged that many of the victims were too scared of being questioned about their immigration status to come forward and tell local police about the attacks. According to a New York Times article,
Many Latino immigrants in Suffolk say they have been beaten with baseball bats and other objects, attacked with BB guns and pepper spray, and been the victims of arson. Latinos, it added, are frequently run off the road while riding bicycles or pelted with objects hurled from cars.
Two weeks ago one of the accused, Nicholas Hausch, finally admitted to participating in the assault, while also testifying against the others accused (who continue to plead not-guilty to the offense), talking about how he and his friends took part in numerous similar attacks against Hispanics. They would scour the streets of their town looking for potential targets, referring to the the “hobby” as “beaner hopping.”
Jose, Kevin and I started popping and Jose punched him so hard he knocked him out,” Anthony Hartford told police, according to prosecutors. Hartford said he didn’t do it often: “Maybe only once a week.”
The incident also allowed for dialogue to emerge around race relations. A short film “Taught to Hate” whose message is to stop hate crimes in America and all over the World was inspired by what happened to Marcelo. And a performance, “After Grief and Anger — Healing and Change” was created in an effort to promote better understanding between Latinos and non-Latinos in the area.
Photo courtesy of the New York Times