Frank Eltman, Washington Times, November 9, 2009
There had been other high-profile attacks on a growing Hispanic population on eastern Long Island before Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death a year ago Sunday on a street corner.
But it wasn’t until the seven teens accused in the killing told police of the attacks–and Hispanic residents who had been long silent about hate crimes came forward to confirm the stories–that officials began to realize what they were dealing with.
The year since the Lucero slaying has put a national spotlight on race relations and has seen the U.S. Justice Department launch a probe of hate crimes and police response to them. A national civil rights group released a study that found “a pervasive climate of fear in the Latino community” in Suffolk County.
Many victims said they had always been reluctant to contact police, fearing they would be asked about their immigration status. Just weeks after presiding at a funeral for Lucero, a preacher invited Hispanic crime victims to share their experiences. Dozens came forward.
Lucero, 37, came to the United States when he was 21 and worked at a dry cleaner. He was walking with a friend shortly before midnight near the Patchogue train station when they were confronted by a mob of teens. His friend ran away, but Lucero was surrounded, prosecutors say.
He tried to fight back, flailing at the assailants with his belt. At some point, 18-year-old Jeffrey Conroy plunged a knife into Lucero’s chest before running away, prosecutors said.
They strengthened their case against the teens this week when one pleaded guilty to conspiracy and hate crime charges and agreed to testify against the others. The other six defendants, including Mr. Hartford, Kevin Shea and Jose Pacheco, have pleaded not guilty.
Nicholas Hausch also admitted to participating in other attacks on Hispanics, confessing he and his cohorts frequently used racial epithets when confronting victims. In one attack, Mr. Hausch said, they shot a BB gun at a Hispanic man.
Obdulio deLeon, a cast member who arrived from Guatemala 23 years ago, says even now, newcomers live in fear. The volunteer EMT said some are even afraid to call for a doctor when they’re sick.
“They don’t want to call 911,” he said. “They don’t want to call the ambulance or call police for anything. If they get beat up or they get picked on, they just let it be.”