November 8, 2017 will mark the ninth anniversary of the tragic death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who was racially targeted by a group of seven boys and stabbed to death on a Patchogue street. His murder shocked Long Islanders, attracted national press coverage and refocused community attention on the horror and tragedy of hate crimes. It highlighted, like few events before, the need for policy reform and radical environmental/cultural change.
An investigation that followed the murder revealed that the Suffolk County Police Department had failed to fully investigate previous attacks by teens targeting Latino immigrants in the town of Patchogue. A pattern of real
anti-immigrant discrimination and intimidation was missed.
But discrimination in the town of Patchogue was only part of the issue. It was clear that Suffolk County, as a whole, had serious discrimination problems.
During the past few decades, the County has experienced a large influx of undocumented Latino immigrants. A number of locals have responded with violence and hostility.
Nine years ago, just before Marcelo Lucero’s murder, the climate for Latino immigrants in a number of Suffolk County neighborhoods was tense, at best, and often dangerously hostile. Many in the Latino community reported that police turned a blind eye to violence or persuaded victims not to press charges. This was especially the case when adolescents were the ones perpetrating the hate-related violence.
More than nine years have passed since the death of Marcelo Lucero. It’s important to examine how the community has responded and what has changed.
There have been a number of positive changes since 2008:
1. Suffolk County Police
The Suffolk County Police Department made some changes immediately after Marcelo Lucero’s death and committed itself to additional changes in a December 2013 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
Some of the key requirements of the 2013 agreement are as follows:
- All complaints of discriminatory policing must be forwarded to the Department’s Internal Affairs Office.
A full investigation must be initiated within 48 hours of the reported incident.
- All reports alleging discrimination must be reported to the Justice Department every six months, along with self-assessments. Police officers must provide annual reports, accompanied by an analysis of traffic stops and hate crime trends. The Justice Department will have full, unrestricted access to the county staff, facilities and documents.
- All police officers must participate in periodic trainings which focus on cultural sensitivity, hate crimes, and best practices for bias free policing.
- All information/complaint forms must be available in multiple languages, including Spanish. In addition, bilingual phone operators must be available.
- Each police precinct must have a bilingual community liaison. Outreach to the Latino community by high ranking officers must be improved.
2. The Federal Government
- At least once a year, the Federal Government will monitor SCPD compliance with hate/bias crime investigations.
3. The Patchogue/Medford Community
- In the aftermath of the murder, local religious congregations joined forces to address the fear and anxiety in the community.
- Mayor Paul Pontieri met immediately with all segments of the community to try to heal wounds, assure public safety and chart a path forward.
- The Mayor provided safe forums for members of the Latino community to express their fears and concerns.
- The Mayor contacted BiasHELP to facilitate community workshops aimed at reducing and healing tensions and community divisions.
4. BiasHELP (In 2013)
- Created the A VOICE Project (Against Violence In Communities Everywhere)
- Created and developed the A VOICE coalition involving community leaders, clergy, school administrators, community members, students, parents and businesses, etc.
- Hosted community events
- Facilitated workshops in the community with schools, community based organizations, religious congregations, medical facilities, etc.
- Facilitated Family Voices, providing a safe environment where families could support each other and heal
- Introduced the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to the Patchogue/Medford School District
- Participated in community events, i.e. Live After Five and Play for Peace
- The Knapp Swezey Foundation, which supported all of the above initiatives with a generous multiyear grant, joined BiasHELP and the whole community of Patchogue/Medford in fostering a vision of a revitalized, diverse community
5. Lucero de America Foundation
- Community members, businesses, professionals, etc. established a foundation to assist Latinos to get involved in community activities through educational workshops
- Not In My Town – Light in the Darkness, a documentary produced by The Working Group