Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, 37, a dry cleaner, was fatally stabbed near the Long Island Railroad station by one of seven teenagers who attacked him, five years ago. The teens had made it a sport, hunting and beating Latinos; they called it “beaner hopping.” Now, his case has prompted rare federal oversight. On November 8, 2008, Marcelo Lucero was stabbed in the chest. His cries for help went unheeded despite nearby homes and he bled to death.
Seven students from the local high school were arrested in connection with Lucero’s murder. Jeffrey Conroy, 17 at the time, was found guilty at trial and is serving 25 years for manslaughter as a hate crime. Six others pled guilty and are serving between five and eight years.
Anthony Hartfold, Jordan Dasch, Nicholas Hausch, and Jose Pacheco, all 19, each pled guilty to gang assault, conspiracy, and attempted assault as a hate crime after confessing that they participated in an ongoing series of attacks against Hispanics, resulting in the murder of Marcelo Lucero. All were sentenced to 7 years in prison except Hausch who was sentenced to 5 years. Kevin Shea, 18, was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Christopher Overton, 18, did not participate in earlier attacks, but pled guilty to the same charges. He received a maximum of six years in prison.
That night, the teens had gone out looking for Hispanics to harass. They encountered Lucero and a friend. The gang began yelling ethnic slurs and attacking the pair. Lucero and his friend swung their belts in an attempt to defend themselves. Lucero reportedly hit 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy in the head with a belt, which caused him to loose his temper resulting in the stabbing.
Joselo Lucero, Marcelo’s brother, said, “For me, it’s a symbol. That was the end of something, but it was the beginning of the change. A regular person, bleeding…stood up and fought for what was right.”
Tuesday, Suffolk County legislators voted 14-0 (with 4 absent) for an agreement that gives the U.S. Justice Department oversight over the Suffolk County police. Later, another vote was taken with the four absent legislators and it was unanimously approved. The 27-page agreement settles a federal investigation of discriminatory policing in immigrant communities in Suffolk. The agreement calls for additional police training, accountability and outreach to Latinos; better tracking of hate crimes and police discrimination; regular meetings with Latino leaders; and more bilingual officers. The settlement does not assign wrongdoing or specific police department issues or problem policies and does not remove any officers. The Justice Department’s investigation found that the police created a climate where hate crimes went unreported and officers ignored bias attacks.
“The cops that looked the other way are still there,” said Patrick Young, a lawyer and program director at the Central American Refugee Center, “The real issue is, Can they reconstruct the culture of the police so that police do not look the other way? We feel they have done a good job of making the police more accountable.”
“Let’s not be hypocrites,” Lucero told CNN. “Who were the police officers who did not follow up on these crimes? Why should I believe these people will change?”
After Marcelo Lucero’s murder in 2008, dozens of immigrants told federal officials about hate crimes they suffered and reports made to officers that went uninvestigated. Investigating these unsolved hate crimes is not part of the agreement, but the LatinoJustice PRLDEF will ask officials to sign a separate agreement calling for investigations into those crimes.
Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union said, “There were instances leading up to that terrible night where kids were out ‘beaner hopping’ and beating up who they perceived to be undocumented immigrants and never got more than a slap on the wrist. So often the police would leave them alone or encourage people not to press charges or, if charges were pressed, they were something like disorderly conduct…they would say, ‘They’re just teenagers messing around.’ “
Suffolk Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon told the media that with a growing population of Spanish-speakers, officers had trouble communicating. Fallon denied creating a suppressive atmosphere that encouraged hate crimes. Fallon suggested that undocumented immigrants were reluctant to report crimes because they were afraid of being deported. Verbal and physical assaults against immigrants continue including a recent stabbing of a Latino immigrant outside a deli by a group of men armed with bats and knives. Residents say that while they still don’t feel safe at night, police are more likely to stop and help a Latinos who are walking alone. The Southern Poverty Law Center said in a report that immigration opponents fostered the climate of fear in Suffolk County. Advocates have consistently singled out former County Executive Steve Levy, an anti-immigration politician, as an enabler of hate.
“Suffolk County became ground zero for the anti-immigrant movement and it threw up a sign saying we’re a county of intolerance,” said Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance.
In recent decades, thousands of immigrants from Latin America have arrived on Long Island. The hostility and attacks predate Lucero’s murder. In 2001, two Mexican laborers were nearly beaten to death and in 2003 a Mexican family’s home was destroyed by arson.
The Justice Department will monitor the county for at least one year.
“All residents of Suffolk County deserve full and unbiased police protection, regardless of national origin, race, or citizenship status,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch.