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Division of Human Rights Meeting: Legislator Jack Eddington, etc.

This morning, Friday, November 14, 2008, I attended a meeting for the community in Patchogue that was hosted by the New York State Division of Human Rights and the Mayor of Patchogue. I will be blogging about various aspects of this meeting over the next few days. An upcoming blog will be about simple steps to create justice and harmony at Patchogue-Medford School District, and more about Patchogue-Medford School Superintendent Michael Mostow. This post will cover a few “characters” in the unfolding story of how Suffolk County and Patchogue deal with the hate crime that occurred in their midst.

Seven young men, all of them students at the Patchogue-Medford High School, went out to look for a “Mexican” person to harass. They found Marcello Lucero. Marcello was actually from Ecuador. Though, he was Hispanic, and that is all those young men knew. They attacked him, and one of the young men stabbed him to death.

At the community meeting, many local politicians were there to support the NY State Commissioner of Human Rights who attended the meeting to listen, to plan, and to encourage the community to consider proactive solutions.

I do not know a lot about local politics in Patchogue. And, I didn’t have a lot of background on the Mayor there. That said, the presentation given by Mayor Paul Pontieri, Jr. at this meeting was very genuine and helpful. It showed great character and sincerity that Mayor Pontieri talked about having gone to the hispanic community over the past few days to speak with people and ask their concerns. Though, the Mayor emphasized that he wished he had taken that and other actions earlier. The Mayor was willing to admit that he could have done more in the past to listen to and be concerned with diversity in his community, but he wanted to move forward, and do the best he can now.

Patchogue-Medford School Superintendent Michael Mostow also gave a presentation. His presentation did not go over well. It was not very genuine, and not very helpful. Instead of coming from a place of “How can I help?”, he was overly defensive. Superintendent Mostow made a bragging list of all the programs he had that he thought proved that he was helping the hispanic community. And, one of the community people I spoke to was just shocked that Superintendent Mostow was acting as if everything was okay and he didn’t need to change anything because he has ESL and language immersion projects. It is ironic, since he was trying to do such good public relations, that it was from Superintendent Mostow that I first learned the interesting and concerning fact that all seven of the young men who did this crime were from the same school.

Because I am a student of politics, I had some knowledge that Jack Eddington, Suffolk County Legislator for District 7, has been a supporter of anti-immigrant legislation. Though, I know that creating laws can be a complicated thing, and sometimes people might lean towards one bill or another for unexpected reasons. So, I hadn’t made my mind up about Legislator Jack Eddington. Now I know.

Legislator Jack Eddington is aggressive and unfair in conversation.

And, Leg. Jack Eddington is either sublimely ignorant and incompetent, or playing a very subtle mind game, with every Hispanic person who dares to speak with him. And, unfortunately, I think the truth is the mind game.

As noted in Newsday, there was some tension at the meeting. It was actually several long minutes of arguments and finger waving with Jack Eddington on one side and David Ochua and one or two other community members on the other side. One reason it happened was because there was such a string of politicians, with speeches and platitudes that the community was waiting and impatient for their turn to speak. And, then someone said Legislator Jack Eddington had to leave, but wanted to speak quickly before he left. That caused people to feel like Leg. Eddington was just using a platform and then escaping the duty of having to listen to the community’s concerns and feedback. So, there was an argument over that. After that got settled down – with the room having somewhat of a feeling that people were unfair to Leg. Eddington, Leg. Eddington started his speech. And, within about 3 sentences, he says something like, “And a lot of the people who are criticizing me, never even tried to speak with me or reach out to me.” Was it any surprise that that caused David Ochoa and others to pop up from their chairs again and shout back at him? From my perspective, Legislator Eddington enjoyed a game of stoking the fire of people who already feel oppressed and abused.

Several times during the Legislator Jack Eddington introduction and speech, there were accusations that he was not answering people’s letters and not responsive to the community. And, I know that that is the truth. Because, while at times Leg. Eddington said that those people were wrong, and that they never tried to contact him, at one point Leg. Eddington said something like, “Well it doesn’t count if you come to my office waving your finger and telling me I am bad.” So, which is it? They never contacted him? Or, they never contacted him humbly enough?

Another accusation I have seen raised, is that Leg. Eddington asks people who speak at the legislature who are Hispanic if they are here legally as citizens.

I totally believe now that he does that, because I caught him doing that today. What happened was a Hispanic man shared a story that he, himself, had been the victim of a hate crime three weeks ago, and that when he reported it to the police, not enough was done. And, Legislator Jack Eddington said to the man, something like, “Well, I am sorry that happened, and I would stand up for you no matter if you were legal or not legal.” Well, the man never said he was illegal. But Leg. Eddington’s alleged affirmation of support raised the question. And, Leg. Eddington, in those words, was also using the language “illegal”, that he must know by now the whole immigrant community rejects as loaded, racist, accusatory language. Now, I suppose that Legislator Jack Eddington could be someone who is awkward at public speaking and accidentally made all those mistakes that would hurt the man sharing his story of victimhood. And, maybe he is that ignorant and bad at public speaking. But, I tend to believe that Legislator Jack Eddington is just really slick, and has been trained in the ways of racists in how to undermine and stoke his opponent while wearing an air of civility.

During most of the meeting, Patricia Eddington, who is an Assemblywoman, and the wife of Legislator Jack  Eddington, was standing in the back of the room, watching everything going on. It was somewhat awkward to be standing as most people were involved in what evolved into a physical circle of dialogue. And, when Legislator Jack Eddington took the privilege of leaving–escaping any further questioning or facing of the concerns–once or twice, Patricia Eddington defended and explained her husband. Taking the floor to do that was somewhat presumptuous based on the format of the meeting. It is interesting to me that Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington has such a different temperament than her husband. And, I wonder if their politics and philosophy concerning immigrants and Hispanic people are different? Though, I found some old newspaper articles that suggest that Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington has made somewhat unfair comments about immigrant students being educated in public schools.

I notice another interesting language issue that revealed some hidden racism. When people were discussing white people – or Anglos – they said “constituents.” But, when some of the same people were discussing Hispanic people, they referred to “that population.”

Legislator Jack Eddington actually seemed to be saying that he could not help his votes and politics, that he was compelled to vote the way he did because he was answering to constituents. (To which I say, I don’t think the majority of his constituents would be racists. But, even if they were, an elected official is also supposed to uphold the Constitution, Civil Rights Laws, and Human Rights Laws. Otherwise, Leg. Eddington would have to support chattel slavery if his constituents wanted it.) Also, I try to carefully examine the language, and even the propaganda of politicians. Often, they give away secrets even in their rhetoric. For instance, in the Town of Babylon, when the Democrat-majority town board kept wrongfully and unaccountably using money from the “garbage fund” to fill in holes in the “general fund”, Supervisor Steve Bellone answered questions about sloppy accounting between the two by saying: “Everything in this town is touched by garbage.” And, he was correct. I think people should examine Leg. Jack Eddington’s claim that he has constituents who want him to vote for anti-immigrant legislation. Does he mean “constituents”, or does he mean “donors”, and he gets the two mixed up? Or, does he have a few constituents who also happen to be big donors, and that is who he answers to. It would probably be worth a look at Leg Eddington’s campaign finance filings to see who supports him. I know you have to be somewhat careful with the privacy of donor lists, for instance, you cannot use them to yourself ask for funds. Though, I wonder what the rules would be about writing a letter to Leg. Eddington’s donors to express one’s dissatisfaction with the job he does. (Or, a letter to Leg. Eddington’s donors offering THEM a class in dismantling racism and acknowledging the harm of unchecked white privilege.)

I feel that it was very cowardly of Steve Levy not to attend this meeting. I cannot think of anything more important for him to do, since there has been a wave of hate incidents in his county. There have been threats with hate messages at North Babylon schools, the hate killing in Patchogue, and the delivery of KKK newspapers in Islip, to name some of the incidents. Though, just like if you miss a party, you get talked about, Levy got his punishment. Many people spoke out about his lack of concern. A community member actually mocked the fact that his apology could make up for what he said about the crime not being worth all the news it got. As noted by most people, you can’t take back words like that. And, also, they show your true feelings about the importance and impact of hate crimes on the community.

I would highly recommend that Legislator Jack Eddington, School Superintendent Michael Mostow, and County Executive Steve Levy go to a workshop on white privilege. All three of these elected officials have no idea about the chasm they create between themselves and Hispanic people. They need reflection and training to understand how their behavior underscores the diversity divide. And, they all need to learn new ways of speaking about and relating to people from other communities. I truly hope they will consider some retreat about dismantling racism, dealing with diversity, or understanding white privilege. (That said, all of us who live in this culture need those kinds of lessons. And, perhaps someone like Mayor Pontieri who is feeling a sense of awakening would make an even better student.)

Since I spoke mostly about the troublesome moments of the meeting, I want to say that overall the meeting was very productive. Since it was called in such a hurry, and there was also a vigil that night, I expected there to be only a dozen or so people. There were over a hundred people. And, a lot of productive discussion.

I will blog more about it soon. Including solutions proposed by myself and others at the school level.

And, I want to note, as a clergy person who was there did, that the remains of Marcello Lucero have not been laid to rest. So, we should all remember his family, and honor is memory. And, hopefully the next few days will have less arguments and more of the calm support and unity needed so soon after a shocking crime like this.

To keep up with the news and events surrounding the death of Marcello Lucero, you can go to www.longislandwins.com.

One Response

  1. First of all, illegal is illegle wether you like the word or not. and don’t write that Jack Ellington said something lake,and then put it in quotes. he iether said it or he didn’t.

    ps. If you knew any thing about the man you would not call him ignorrent.

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