The family of Marcelo Lucero, a slain immigrant who lived in Long Island and was stabbed to death in a hate crime attack, have filed a $40 million lawsuit against the county where their son lived, charging public officials and police with failing to investigate prior incidents of racially motivated violence before Lucero’s murder. The lawsuit also charges public officials with contributing to a climate of anti-immigrant hatred.
Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorean man who worked at a dry cleaning shop, was walking home from the Patchogue LIRR in November 2008 when a group of seven teenagers descended upon him and shouted racial slurs before Jeffrey Conroy, then 17 years old, stabbed him to death. Conroy and his friends called their sport of finding Latinos and attacking them "beaner-hopping," and one of Conroy’s classmates said they’d known about the practice since they were middle schoolers. This summer Conroy was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter with a hate crime enhancement, and was sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison. Conroy was the only one of the teens to be charged with manslaughter, and the other teens received lesser sentences.
"We believe this lawsuit will ultimately shatter the myth that there was any knowledge of a pattern," county commissioner Richard Dormer said in a statement, the New York Times reported. "Not a single elected official, day-laborer advocate or media representative ever reported any kind of pattern prior to this awful event."
Such may have been the case–many attacks went unreported because immigrants didn’t trust local authorities to actually investigate reports of bias attacks, and because often calling the police meant calling attention to themselves and their immigration status. But it’s not to say anti-Latino violence wasn’t running rampant in Suffolk County, and it isn’t to say that police and public officials didn’t enable a culture of hate.
The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report in 2009 cataloguing the county’s extensive history of racially motivated attacks against immigrants, and the role police and public officials played in enabling such attacks.
"Immigrants in Suffolk County don’t trust the police," the SPLC report reads. "They say there’s no point in reporting bias-motivated harassment, threats or assaults, even severe beatings, because from what they can tell, the police take the report and do nothing. They say that when the police arrive on the scene of a hate crime, they often accept the version of events given by the assailant or assailants, even to the point of arresting the true victim in response to false claims that the immigrant started a fight."
Lucero’s murder cut open barely contained racial tensions in the area. In recent years, public officials had taken to responding to an influx of Latino immigrants with xenophobic remarks and policies. Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, the most visible anti-immigrant official in the area, attempted to give Suffolk County police SB 1070-like powers; he wanted local police to be able to detain any person they believed were undocumented. His proposal was turned down, but he didn’t stop there. In 2005, Levy used the pretense of zoning violation investigations to conduct raids on 11 homes in Farmingville which led to the eviction of 200 people in the immigrant neighborhood. Levy frequently refers to immigrants as criminals and "low-level terrorists," and lambasts critics as "politically correct Communists" and "anarchists."
The Department of Justice has an ongoing investigation into whether Suffolk County failed to adequately respond to anti-immigrant attacks. Lucero’s family also has initiated a separate civil rights lawsuit against Conroy and their son’s six other attackers.
Levy also famously said Lucero’s murder would have been a "one-day story" if it had happened anywhere else in the country. Now, two years after Lucero’s death, it seems to be just one of Levy’s statements that’s proven false.