November 14, 2008
By Marcelo Ballvé
New America Media
After a group of teenagers stabbed to death Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecua-dorean, outside a Long Island commuter train station on Nov. 8, outraged Spanish-language media pointed to the attack as part of an ugly nationwide pattern in which a crackdown and tough rhetoric on illegal immigration contributes to anti-Latino violence.
Over the last two years, a raft of local and state laws seeking to curb illegal immigration, as well as federal immigration raids in neighborhoods and workplaces, have cast a pall over immigrant communities. Advocates say the hard-line atmosphere has emboldened xenophobes and racists to lash out against Latinos.
The lynch mob-style killing of Marcelo Lucero not only triggered concerned editorials and attentive coverage in New York-area English-language newspapers, it also became a lead story in Spanish-language media countrywide. Two days after the murder, Long Island police officials labeled it a hate crime, and the next morning Lucero’s photo dominated the front page of El Diario/La Prensa, with the headline: “Hatred Against Latinos.” In another New York Spanish-language daily, Diario de México, the headline was “Crimen Racial!”
At a time when others are celebrating president-elect Barak Obama’s embodiment of a country moving beyond racial prejudice, Latinos are feeling increasingly vulnerable. A daily editorial cartoon on the Diario de México’s front page underscored Latinos’ fears and sense of being targeted. On the day of the “Crimen Racial!” headline it showed a duck (the cartoon’s protagonist) cowering in a corner and framed by a gun’s crosshairs. The caption read: “Blacks Freed Themselves, But Now it’s Latinos’ Turn.”
The killing of Lucero, who worked at a drycleaner, drew comment from as far away as Los Angeles, where La Opinión, the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, penned an angry editorial. It sought to connect the dots between the anti-immigrant verbiage heard from local politicians and on talk radio airwaves with a rising tide of anti-Latino violence: “This kind of discourse plants the seeds of hate and reaps the horror of events like the one that took Marcelo Lucero’s life.”
Long Island police officers arrested seven young men between the ages of 16 and 17 for involvement in the killing and leveled gang assault charges against all, according to the Suffolk County Police Department. One of them, Jeffrey Conroy, who allegedly wielded the knife, was also charged with manslaughter as a hate crime. “The young men were gathered at a local park and in the course of conversation had the idea to go looking for ‘Mexicans’ in order to beat them up,” Richard Dormer, police commissioner, was quoted as saying in El Diario/La Prensa.
Lucero was stabbed seven times and died. But even before Lucero’s death, Suffolk County, which occupies Long Island’s east end, already was notorious for hate crimes, and for tensions between local government leaders and the growing immigrant community.
In 2000, two Mexican day laborers in Farmingville were picked up by men ostensibly offering them work, and instead were nearly beaten to death with gardening tools. Three years later local teenagers firebombed a home near where the day laborers had lived and the immigrant family of five living in it barely escaped with their lives. Since the firebombing, tensions had eased in Suffolk County, but Lucero’s killing may point to inter-ethnic resentments that simmered instead of disappearing.
Meanwhile, Suffolk has continued to grow more diverse. In 2006, Suffolk County was 13 percent Latino, up from 10.5 percent six years before, according to U.S. Census figures. Patchogue Village, where the attack occurred, has one of the densest immigrant populations, and already was 24 percent Latino in 2000.
Local leaders were quick to condemn Lucero’s murder. “This heinous crime that led to the death of an individual because of his race will not be tolerated,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. He also sought to quell the perception that Suffolk was a hotbed for anti-Latino hatred, arguing in media interviews that the county had unfairly earned that reputation because of a few highly publicized incidents.
However, New York-area immigrant advocates greeted Levy’s statements with skepticism, attacking him for his support of policies perceived to fan anti-immigrant sentiment, such as the county’s targeting of landlords with overcrowded housing and laws requiring contractors to verify workers’ immigration status. On the Spanish-language Univision TV network, advocates demanded Levy’s resignation. “We don’t trust the local government,” said activist Cesar Pareles on national news-magazine show Primer Impacto, broadcast Nov. 11. “Everyone knows that for a long time, there have been tensions between the government and the Latino community here in Suffolk.”
La Opinión editorialized that Levy, a Democrat, led an administration that had painted Latinos as threats to public health, safety and welfare.
The last FBI annual hate crimes report released in late October lends some credence to Latino immigrants’ perception they are increasingly being targeted. It registered 770 hate crimes motivated by anti-Hispanic prejudice in 2007. That’s still considerably less than the over 3,000 crimes motivated by anti-black bias in the same period, and it’s a slight dip compared to the roughly 800 anti-Hispanic hate crimes counted the year before. However, the 2007 figures still represent a rise of 30 percent in anti-Hispanic hate crimes since 2004.