Donald Trump headlined the Suffolk County Republican Party fundraiser in Patchogue, Long Island Thursday night as he rallied support among New York Republicans. But Patchoque is more than a leafy suburb — it was also the scene of a pattern of hate crimes that culminated in a murder, eight years ago, the wounds of which Trump has swiftly reopened.
“People feel that with Trump coming to the village and basically taking part in a fundraiser that will be a short walk away from the site where Marcelo Lucero was stabbed opens up old wounds,” said Victor Ramos, a Newsday reporter, in an interview with Public Radio International. “And the way in which Trump addresses immigration brings back the rancorous tone of the immigration debate before the Lucero incident took place.”
Lucero was an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the country for 16 years at the time of his death. His murder was the culmination of a number of attacks committed by a group of Patchogue teens, who called themselves the “Caucasian Crew” (despite one member, Jose Pacheco, being of mixed Black and Puerto Rican descent). They preyed on the town’s large Hispanic community with impunity, knowing that many Hispanics feared approaching the police, who would inevitably ask about their immigration status.
The teens called their activities “beaner-hopping.” As Pacheco later admitted to police, “I don’t go out and do this very often, maybe once a week.”
Shortly before midnight on November 8, 2008, Lucero was walking with a friend near the town’s train station when the teens emerged from a car, hurled racial insults at the duo and started beating them up. Lucero’s friend managed to escape, and the gang turned its attention to Lucero himself, who defended himself back with a belt. When Lucero struck Jeffrey Conroy in the head with the belt, an enraged Conroy pulled out a knife and stabbed Lucero in the chest, fatally wounding him.
“Every November since that hate-filled night, friends and community members have gathered with me for a peaceful vigil at the spot where Marcelo fell,” said Joselo Lucero, the victim’s brother, in a letter published on Newsday. “Now, a short distance north of that spot, supporters of the Suffolk County Republican Party will gather at a nightclub for a fundraising event. The guest of honor — in my mind, the guest of dishonor — will be Donald J. Trump. His appearance should serve as a wake-up call for the immigrant community.”
Since that fateful November night, the group of seven teens have all been charged with multiple counts of gang assault and hate crimes. In 2010, Conroy received a 25-year sentence for manslaughter as a hate crime, gang assault and conspiracy.
On June 24, 2008, Conroy and a group of teens slashed Robert Zumba with a knife after kicking him and pinning his arms to the ground. Members of the same group repeatedly beat up José Hernández, in December 2007, prosecutors said. During one attack, Conroy allegedly threatened to kill Hernández while holding a pipe in one hand.
The other six teens all received multiyear sentences. Since the incident, the town’s Hispanic community, which comprises a quarter of the total 11,700 residents, has made efforts to heal the rifts that emerged following not only the murder, but also revelations that the teens engaged in a pattern of physical harassment against Hispanic members of the community. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric aimed specifically at Hispanics threatens to undo nearly a decade of history.
“If he comes, there might be a toxic environment again. Maybe something bad happens,” said Jocelyn Fajardo, who was born in New York City to Ecuadorean parents, to The New York Times. “Trump puts U.S. people against us, Latinos. He divides people.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a history of racism directed towards Hispanics in Suffolk County — as high up as the office of the County Executive, Steve Levy, who made anti-immigration policies a central plank of his election bid in 2003. The indignities suffered by the Hispanic community, such as racial profiling while driving and undue searches and seizures, are typical of less immigrant-friendly states such as Arizona or Texas.
“I will not back down to this one percent lunatic fringe,” Levy is reported to have said in 2006. “They evidently do not like me much because I am one of the few officials who are not intimidated by their politically correct histrionics.”
The SPLC noted, in a special report investigating racism in Suffolk County, that “although Lucero’s murder represented the apex of anti-immigrant violence in Suffolk County to date, it was hardly an isolated incident.”
The county’s Hispanic residents regularly reported being run off of roads while riding their bikes, being spat on, and having objects thrown at them.
Photo: Patchogue Post Office. Wikimedia Commons/ DanTD