The conviction of Jeffrey Conroy of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and conspiracy for stabbing to death Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue—a slaying and trial that brought international attention to Suffolk County—has happened.
More trials of members of the gang of seven young men who engaged in what they called “beaner-hopping”—searching out and assaulting Latinos in Suffolk—are scheduled. Meanwhile, now 19-year-old Mr. Conroy, who, as noted at his jury trial, telegraphed his views by sporting tattoos of a swastika and a lightning bolt which he said represented “white power,” will be sentenced next month.
But the underlying issues remain with us.
Indeed, last week Suffolk Dist. Atty. Thomas Spota announced the indictment of four Suffolk men and two women for robbery as a hate crime and conspiracy for “targeting Hispanic men as victims in strong-arm street robberies” which continued from last year to last month. The victims were picked, said Mr. Spota, because those indicted “believed, mistakenly as it turned out, that these men would not report the robberies to the Suffolk County Police.”
After the 2008 murder of Mr. Lucero, the Southern Poverty Law Center investigated the situation involving bias against Latinos in Suffolk and declared in a report issued last year that “nativist and hate violence has been festering for years in Suffolk County.” Moreover, “fueling the fire are many of the very people who are charged with protecting the residents of Suffolk County… There is abundant evidence that Suffolk County officials have contributed substantially to an atmosphere of racial violence.” It called on Suffolk officials to “halt their angry demagoguery on the issue of immigration.”
The report spoke of one legislator at a meeting of the Suffolk Legislature (at which I was present) announcing that if Latino day laborers came to “his town, ‘we’ll be out with baseball bats.’ Another said if Latino workers were to gather in his district, “’I would load my gun and start shooting period’”
The center, a leading institution fighting racism throughout the U.S., acknowledged that “Suffolk County is not unique…Many communities across the United States are undergoing similar racial conflicts and rapid demographic changes.” The signing last week in Arizona of a legally-dubious law aimed at illegal immigration underlines this.
In Suffolk, not too incidentally, it’s been a sociology textbook case when it comes to the officials who have been most outspoken about Latino immigrants. They have virtually all been first and second-generation Americans. Members of the last immigrant group that arrived are often in the forefront in attacking the newest group, sociological research has long found.
In Suffolk in 1963, a Suffolk County Human Rights Commission was created to work toward “the elimination of bias and discrimination” in the county. In the 60s it had a staff of 37 actively taking on bias—going out and testing for discrimination in housing (Long Island, the group Erase Racism has found, is the third “most segregated” suburb in the U.S.), employment and so forth. The staff was cut and cut and efforts made by county legislators to abolish the commission. It now has a staff of seven. Yes, seven. Meanwhile, the overall population and percentage of minority people—especially Latinos—has skyrocketed in Suffolk. The most current U.S. Census Bureau data on the Internet for this county of 1.5 million reports that as of last year 13.7 percent of the population is “of Latino origin.” In the 1960s, Latinos constituted a fraction of that. The African-American percentage of the population of Suffolk is listed as 7.8%.
This week there will be consideration of a bill authored by Legislator DuWayne Gregory to expand the county’s law against bias by adding more prohibited acts. This is needed, says the measure, because since the present law was passed in 2000 “Suffolk County has seen an increase in the number of bias-related acts against individuals.”
Mr. Gregory, Suffolk’s only elected black county official, last year authored the bill that created a county Hate Crimes Task Force. It has a lot of work ahead of it.
In one of its articles after the Conroy verdict came in, Newsday quoted a student at Patchogue-Medford High School—where the Conroy gang members were students—as saying: “In our school right now, every day you hear jokes about Jewish people and black people.”
The Suffolk subculture of bias must be fully challenged.