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Lesson in issue work: Hate Crime Circus


With the murder of Marcelo Lucero, a man from Ecuador, in Patchogue, there are many activists and groups– including non-profits, religious groups and elected officials on every side of the political spectrum–who want to use this tragedy as a teachable moment. It is very difficult sometimes to sort out people’s intent. And, we must all be careful that Marcelo Lucero’s sacrifice helps the cause of fairness and justice for people like him, and does not get used in the wrong way by the wrong people. I don’t know anyway to explain how to do that except “vigilance” and relying on the trust of old friends and good people.

Below is a story of one mishap in the struggle to do the right thing for Marcelo Lucero and the Hispanic community of Patchogue. It was published at Long Island WINS, a group  of very good people who I turn to the most for updates and advice on this unfolding situation.

In the News NY Times on “Hate Crime Circus”
By Patrick Young, Esq. CARECEN December 5, 2008 8:15 AM
[Guest blogger at LI WINS]

The New York Times had a tough editorial observer today on what it referred to as a Hate Crime Circus in Patchogue Wed. night.

Here is a substantial excerpt from the piece:

Not all crimes against immigrants take place in darkened parking lots with hurled insults and knife blows. Some happen in church, obscured in a swirl of platitudes, righteous poses and smarmy motives.

The Congregational Church of Patchogue, an imposing stone building on Main Street, became a whitened sepulcher for a night on Wednesday, thanks to a media event concocted by its pastor, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, and Fernando Mateo, the leader of an advocacy group called Hispanics Across America.

Since the fatal stabbing in Patchogue, N.Y., last month of an Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, in what prosecutors called a hate crime by a teenage mob, Mr. Wolter and Mr. Mateo have aimed the spotlight of mourning upon themselves. They attached themselves to Mr. Lucero’s corpse and to his surviving brother, Joselo, and have not let go.

Mr. Wolter had sent word to Latino victims of untold hate crimes to share their stories in the safety of his sanctuary. He said his goal was to drop a pebble of hope into a calm lake to reach the shores of peace, but he also invited newspapers, wire services and TV stations within a 60-mile radius and across Long Island Sound, using an encouraging message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu as bait. The news crews that descended fell for it, and so did I.

It was a guilt fiesta. Victims were invited to unload tales of abuse — not necessarily to the authorities (that was optional), but to lawyers brought by Mr. Mateo, who roves the New York region, popping up at crime victims’ sides.

At 9 p.m., it was time for a news conference. Mr. Mateo said that he had unearthed several grim stories of victimhood and had harsh words for the county police. Mr. Wolter mused about “retributive” and “restorative” justice. Mr. Mateo made an announcement: The Guardian Angels were on their way to Patchogue to do street patrols.

Then Mr. Wolter did an odd thing. He promised reporters that tapes and transcripts of the victims’ stories would soon be released for all to hear.

I asked him whether the people who had come that night had known that their private stories of abuse were destined for mass public consumption.

It took him a while, but eventually Mr. Wolter said no, and added that he had not given it much thought. Then things got confused: Mr. Mateo told me that the tapes were meant to be turned over to the authorities. Mr. Wolter said that he was keeping the tapes himself. I waited by the radio reporter’s makeshift studio, hoping he could clear it up. Was he an audio technician, or a reporter working a story? He told me he was on deadline and angrily shut the door.

As the news conference was ending, somebody had the idea to ask a question of Joselo Lucero, who had been standing silently beside Mr. Mateo the whole time. He looked stricken with weary circles under his eyes. He looked like a hostage.

Mr. Wolter said he wanted to say a few words first, and began a speech about Joselo’s fine qualities.

Mr. Wolter went on for what seemed like minutes, and even as he spoke, the camera men started packing up. They took microphones off the lectern. They turned their lights off, leaving Joselo in shadow. He had not yet said a word.
Patrick Young continues:

Now, I have included this extended except because it raises serious ethical concerns about the event on Wed. Several friends have expressed similar concerns since the church event took place.

I found out about this event a couple of days in advance. There have been a large number of events organized by Long Island Immigrant Alliance in the wake of the Lucero killing, and many more organized locally. The Congregational Church event was one of the latter. When I received notice of this event, I spoke with colleagues about whether our groups were involved in it or were supporting it. I was told “No”.

However, as I say, there have been a large number of memorials and healing services that have occured in both the English-speaking and Latino community, and this seemed like another such. Because of where the event took place, in the heart of Patchogue, I did raise a concern with colleagues about whether this event was just for victims, or if it involved the police, the D.A., or lawyers. I was assured that it was merely a healing opportunity.

After such assurances, I published without comment the invitation for hate crime victims to attend the event.

Here is the relevent sections of the church’s release:
People who believe they are the victim of hate, harassment, injury, or attack simply because they are Hispanic/Latino, have the right to tell their story in a safe and supportive environment. But if such persons are afraid, for whatever reason, to report the incident to the police or other agencies, or if they did report the incident, but their statement was not accurately recorded; then the need for an alternative place and method of reporting becomes apparent. That is why the Congregational Church of Patchogue has offered to be a sanctuary church where people are encouraged to come and be heard on Wednesday, December 3rd between 6 and 9PM at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, the site of the funeral of Marcelo Lucero..

Many who come may lack evidence or witnesses that could result in legal action. But simply telling their story, and feeling listened to, often results in an experience of healing that may never be found in a court of law. Even so, we will advocate for those who come seeking accountability and justice.

There are two kinds of justice:

  • Retributive Justice, the central concern of which is punishment, and
  • Restorative Justice, the central concern of which is healing.

What I seek is restoration of broken relationships between individuals and government agencies, and the re-integration of opposing sides and factions within the community. To quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner in 1984 of the Nobel Peace prize and chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa: “Unless we look the beast [of racial injustice] in the eye, we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage.”

I am not equating Patchogue with South Africa during apartheid ~ I am merely emphasizing my belief that the great, good work of Archbishop Tutu might be adapted here on Long Island with the goal of healing that, I believe, will not be achieved with only with legalistic methods.

The spirituality of peace and reconciliation must have an equal seat at the table of justice. May we continue with the many good things about us, face and accept the bad ~ and may we become a powerful example of a community transformed by tragedy into a place of peace and justice, so that Marcelo Lucero will not have died in vain.

Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter
Congregational Church of Patchogue
Patrick Young continues:

As you can see, the announcement gives no indication of the nature of what actually transpired.

I am concerned with several aspects of what happened Wed. in Patchogue. Victims of hate crimes need the type of support and understanding that the church’s announcement promised. They may also need legal help in protecting their rights. But, such help should not come at the expense of their privacy and their ability to make their own decisions about how procede.

– – –

One Response

  1. It may be that Wolter and others might have oversteped, however, few people in the press realize the extent that the Village of Patchogue goverment has been corrupted for the purposes of pushing the latino out of our town. The media has focused on Suffolk County Officials, which have foster an anti -latino policy in Suffolk county genarally and specifically lauded Mayor Pontieri’s anti-latino efforts, even if the Village impersonated police officers, illegally carried weapons, and created the fiction of their Police Force.

    The Victims and the Press, including the NY Times are, to this day, unaware of the collasal “game” that has been played upon them. Sooner or latter the truth will come out, and we will all see to what extent that Patchogue is what NewYorkers imagine when they hear of the deep South


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