A report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today cites a disturbing environment of “racial intolerance and anti-immigrant hatred” in Suffolk County, NY that SPLC claims was fueled by local politicians and law enforcement.
Suffolk County made national headlines last year when an Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, was brutally stabbed to death by an alleged gang of teenagers who proudly called themselves the “Caucasian Crew.” According to SPLC, local officials “minimized the tragedy” and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy brushed it off as a “one-day story.” Maybe that’s because, for Suffolk County’s immigrant community, hate-motivated violence is an everyday occurrence. Since the number of anti-Latino hate crimes in the US has risen by over 40% from 2003-2007, SPLC describes Suffolk County as a “microcosm” of a larger national trend. In fact, Lucero’s death was “hardly an isolated incident.” Latino immigrants claim they have been regularly taunted, spit on, beaten with baseball bats, shot by BB guns, and attacked with pepper spray. If they ride their bicycles, they are often run off the road or hit with objects. In 2000, two Mexican day laborers were nearly beaten to death with gardening tools. Just a couple weeks ago, a Latino man was allegedly beaten and robbed in a racially charged attack just a stone’s throw away from where Lucero was found dead.
After Lucero’s death, many Suffolk County community members went on to say that Steve Levy had “blood on his hands” and SPLC has gone on to identify him as “the Enabler.” Levy has dedicated most of his political career to promoting policies aimed at “uprooting and expelling immigrants” that have simultaneously terrorized and demonized the local immigrant community. He even founded an organization dedicated to lobbying for immigration crackdowns. He’s also called anti-hate crime protesters “politically correct histrionics” and his critics “Communists” and “anarchists.” But blood isn’t just on Levy’s hands. County Legislator Michael D’Andre said that if an influx of immigrants ever entered his town, “we’ll be up in arms; we’ll be out with baseball bats.” County Legislator Elie Mystal openly threatened violence against Latino day laborers lining up for work, “If I’m living in a neighborhood and people are gathering like that, I would load my gun and start shooting, period. Nobody will say it, but I’m going to say it.”
Shortly after Lucero’s death, his brother told local reporters that Marcelo was “elated by the election of Barack Obama” the week before:
“He saw it as a chance for people with brown skin to be seen as equals. Instead, my brother was killed because of his appearance.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s election together with the economic recession has also sparked a rise in radical right-wing violence against immigrants and others, and Lucero was just one of its first victims. Everyone knows that words have consequences, and in the case of anti-immigrant vitriol, the aftermath can be deadly. If conservatives don’t acknowledge and address the volatility of their base, Lucero’s death will end up on a long list of casualties of the war nativists are waging on America’s immigrants.