There are two issues that I would like to address this week. Since the brutal murder of Marcello Lucero, there has been much written and said about hate crimes in Suffolk County.
Clearly, hate and bigotry continue to be a serious concern around the country, even after the majority of Americans elected our first African American President. It amazes me how subtle and infectious hate still is.
We were shocked at the brutal attack on an Ecuadorian immigrant by seven high school students from a South Shore high school. However, we still have cross burnings on the lawns of African American families in our community. Swastikas continue to deface synagogues and other public places. A growing number of people are being demeaned and persecuted because of their sexual orientation.
We are a nation founded on religious freedom and equal opportunity for all. We are a melting pot nation of more nationalities than one can count. However, we still select certain ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations to attack and demean.
People are not born with prejudice. They learn it from their parents, from their schools, and at times from their religious communities. It is almost unconscionable that a local community could give birth to seven young men still in their teens who would allegedly admit to assaulting people on a weekly basis because of their look. A swastika on a boy s leg is not a form of art or freedom of expression, it is a blatant form of hate and disrespect.
A growing concern across the country is that our schools are becoming venues that feed rather than eradicate hate. That is an interesting concern.
Schools across the country are reporting an escalation in violence. Some of this violence is around diversity and social difference. How is that being addressed? Some parents I have spoken with feel that it is being swept under the carpet. Others feel that it is blatantly being ignored. A small group feels that their school district is addressing these concerns properly.
Recently, the Suffolk County Legislature took a step in a new direction by unanimously passing a measure to create a task force to examine hate crimes. It is a first step.
The Legislature could have created its own investigative committee with subpoena power to delve into County policies and practices on the handling of hate related incidents.
Some feel that the task force is the weaker alternative and that the subcommittee would be more effective and efficient. Honestly, having worked with government for almost thirty years, both options, at best, are grossly inadequate.
However, in this climate, I think an independent task force has a better chance at presenting more accurate data on the issue and more effective recommendations on how to address hate and discrimination in our county.
If this task force is to be effective, it must be independent. Its members must not be political hacks beholden to any elected officials. They should represent an honest cross section of Suffolk County. The chairperson should have no political affiliations or alliances, so he or she can lead this important task force in addressing a very lethal and infectious issue in our county.
There is an urgency that this task force should be assembled immediately. All arms of government should be directed to cooperate with them as fully as possible, so that this lethal issue can be addressed thoroughly.
The other issue that I want to address has to do with Michael Phelps, the Summer Olympic hero. As most know, a picture was taken of him taking a hit off a joint. That picture has been plastered around the world. After that picture was seen, Mr. Phelps released a statement saying he acted in a youthful and inappropriate way. He also promised that it wouldn t happen again.
Some have expressed great disappointment and concern that his behavior might be giving out the wrong message. Others were quick to point out that he was in good company with other successful and honorable people that tried pot and smoked occasionally, like Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama.
It is pretty clear that Mr. Phelps made an error in judgment. He is not an addict and clearly does not need treatment.
He does provide us with a teach able moment. Good people, heroes and leaders sometimes make mistakes. No one is perfect. Hopefully, when we make small errors in judgment, we learn from them, especially if we are people in leadership.
Contrary to what Tony Newman, the Director of Media Relations at the Drug Policy Alliance said, Michael Phelps doesn t need to apologize, I think he is totally wrong. If Michael Phelps apologized because in his heart he felt he made an error in judgment because smoking pot is illegal in this country and role models should obey the law, then I feel he should ve apologized. If he made that statement because of political motivation, then he is wrong. Based on all that he has said in the past and what has been written about him, I think he is an honest young man, a true American role model to be looked up to.
Our drug laws are unfair and need to be amended. That s not Phelp s job. He took an awkward social situation and did the right thing as a positive American role model.