By Andrea Callan — Last winter, in response to the murder of Long Island resident and Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero, the Suffolk County Legislature created a Hate Crimes Task Force “to examine the sources of racial tension in the County, to study and analyze the mechanisms used to report hate crimes in the County, and provide recommendations on current hate crime legislation.” The task force was also asked to hold at least four public hearings around Suffolk County so that the views and experiences of all residents can be heard. These hearing are a great and important step, but they are only that—one step. Tragically, the Lucero murder was not an isolated incident. In the recent past, Latino day laborers have been abducted and beaten in Farmingville and a home owned by immigrants in Farmingville was torched. For our community to truly move past these acts of violence, we must confront the regular acts of discrimination and intolerance that plague our county and its policies. In addition to listening to victims and observers of bias crimes, the task force must also discover why these incidents occur in the first place. What is it about our communities, our culture, and our politics that allow horrific crimes of hatred and bias to transpire? The task force should consider surveying residents in the Latino community regarding their perception of the police and the responsiveness of police personnel to local issues. A survey could similarly gather views on how the local government has handled immigrant-related issues over the past several years, and whether or not there is a correlation between the way politicians advocate for the treatment of immigrants and the way in which immigrants are then treated in their communities. Outside of the hearing process, the task force must also investigate how the county police report, classify, and investigate hate crimes. The public has a right to know about the Suffolk County Police Department’s rules, procedures, directives, guidelines, and policies regarding hate crime: how they distinguish a hate “crime” from a hate “incident;” how they manage reports of an alleged hate crime; and under what circumstances do they refer an alleged hate crime to federal authorities for investigation and possible federal charges. We must also be certain that, despite the fact that task force appointees are people who work intimately with the county government, the body itself maintains a level of independence. The task force could lose its legitimacy because members badger those who come forward to share their stories, or if it fails to report county practices, polices, or politics that seem to be a substantial cause of bias and hate related acts. If that happens, then the whole process will have been meaningless, and the county will have failed in its task to champion the values of civility and compassion our communities. Task force members must stand strong. It is up to them to ensure that such a tragedy will not become reality. Andrea Callan is the director of the Suffolk County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union

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