One L(ove)

November 18, 2008

Racism on Long Island

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 10:33 pm
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Steve Levy, the County Executive of Suffolk County (the better half of Long Island), gave an address on television today about the murder of Marcelo Lucero. Lucero, a native of Ecuador, was stabbed to death by a group of teenagers near the LIRR train station in Patchogue on the 8th. What was the motive behind the killing? According to the police, the teenagers killed Lucero because he was Hispanic. This has caused a public furor on the Island, especially from the immigrant and religious communities. Ever since the recent murder, I bet every single Suffolk County resident is asking the crucial question: “What the fuck is going on?” How come racism is so rampant in our area? How come our youth are driven to carry out race-based violence against others? What or who leads them to believe that they should carry out a hate crime? These are difficult questions to answer and I give props to Levy for going on television to address these questions head on. Although I do think he has played some role in pouring gasoline, rather than water, on the fire of racial tension. I’ll discuss this later on in this piece.

The Island is one of the most segregated places in the country. Is it because of the way we define our space that greatly determines our interactions with other people? I live in Farmingville, the ground zero of hate crimes on the Island. It has gained a national reputation of being the principal place of hate on the Island. That saddens me greatly. We’ve got a lot of day laborers in our town, which has ignited racial tension and has truly divided Farmingville. There was a documentary film made on the town, discussing the racial tension within it. This film is also called “Farmingville”. One of the incidents of hate in this town include the brutal beating of a day laborer by a white supremacist disguised as a contractor. The supremacist drove up to the day laborer, told him that he’ll give him work and money, and took him to an abandoned place. In that place, the supremacist beat the laborer and left him for dead. Gratefully, the laborer survived and the supremacist was arrested. However, on a more personal level, a kid from my high school firebombed a Mexican family’s home which is just a couple of minutes walking distance from my house. This took place around 2 a.m. on  July 4th, 2004. I remember being awake at that time but heard absolutely nothing. What happened was that the kid, along with some others, drove past the house in which a Mexican family lived, firebombed it, then drove away. Fortunately, the family wasn’t harmed. When the kids were arrested, the cops found KKK literature in one of their wallets. Whenever the school bus (I was a high school senior at that time) drove past the house, everyone just stared at the gutted wound to its structure – a wound to the town’s innocence.

There is no doubt that racism is prevalent on the Island. Local television programs have dedicated hours to it and with the death of Lucero, I think every resident of Suffolk County is reflecting on why these fatal attitudes still affect our community’s social life. There has been a sense of soul searching, I sense, within the County after the murder. Although we can never say, “Well, here’s the root of it all,” since humans are such complex creatures and there are always countless reasons why something is the way it is (human relationships are never black and white when it comes to social issues), I think there are some deducible things we can say are causes (though not primary) that effect negative consequences. Here are just my thoughts:

1. Local rhetoric. A kid on my bus, when I was in high school, used to yell out and make racial slurs against Hispanic day laborers. I’ve always wondered what caused this asshole to lower the window and yell and spit at day laborers who stood on the sidewalk. Certainly it could be something he learned at home. However, I believe that the local organization, Sachem Quality of Life (SQL from hereon), plays a great role. SQL wants to promote a healthy, beautiful, and peaceful environment in the town. They believe that the day laborers are enemies bent on ruining those values. But I do think they, in fact, are the ones who compromise those values. They stand on the sidewalk with signs saying “Honk, if you want them deported,” “Invasion!”, “Deport the Illegals,” “Save Our Town,” etc. I believe these actions only complicate the situation further by portraying an “Us versus Them” image. Their rhetoric only treats the day laborers as if they are objects, people not to be trusted, unclean, and dangerous. This type of rhetoric only serves to dehumanize a group of people. I think some young people, sadly, are influenced by this group and feel that they want to take more substantive steps than merely stand on the sidewalk holding signs. In other words, I think they get convinced that the day laborers are truly the sole reason for the social ills in the community and that these kids should then take the matter into their own hands to actually do something about it, rather than just standing on the sidewalk all day holding signs.

2. Levy’s rhetoric. Although I commend Levy for getting on television today to address the residents of Suffolk about Lucero’s murder, hate crimes and racism in the County, I do think Levy, just like the SQL, creates a dangerous atmosphere with his policies. Levy contends that the murder and his anti-illegal-immigration policies were not related – that there’s no nexus between them. Some immigration and human rights activists have recently stated that he has “blood on his hands.” That although his policies did not serve to be a proximate cause in Lucero’s death, they did however enrage racial tensions even more. I think Levy’s staunch anti-illegal-immigration stance does play a role in that it might convince some people that since he’s spending so much time in trying to fight against illegal immigration, the day laborers must then truly be the real cause of social ills in the County. Insensitive remarks such as Lucero’s death being a “one-day story” (although I should flag that Levy did apologize for this remark) add absolutely nothing to a reasonable public dialogue. Levy, in his address, also told Hispanic immigrants not to be afraid of the police. He promised that the law enforcement will protect everyone – regardless if they have an identity card or not. This of course acknowledges the immigrants’ distrust of the law enforcement since they feel that the cops and the law are biased against them and there’s no protection for them at all. A very intelligent immigrant from Ecuador called a show on News 12 tonight and said that the immigrants are frightened of the law enforcement as they feel that the cops do not serve to protect them – only to harass them and deprive them of that essential human right of security for one’s personal protection. Levy must certainly work hard to regain the trust of immigrants and assure them that the law’s protection won’t abandon them – that they should enjoy the same protection as their fellow residents who happen to be non-immigrants. To do this, Levy must soften his hardcore stance and policies, stop worrying about how he appears before the camera (which is eternally on), and work to ensure racial equality in Suffolk by educating the young about the harmful effects of hate crimes upon the community as a whole. I hope he’ll wise up and carry out sound policies. But I guess, it’s always true, that it ultimately is our responsibility, the residents of Suffolk, when it comes down to determining in what direction we take the County.

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