Hate is a very strong word. It contains a depth of negative emotion. It is an emotion people learn from experience or the example of others.
Over the last few months we have seen a growing number of hate crimes erupt in our larger community. If teenagers commit these crimes, we tend to minimize them. Some will try to excuse them and suggest they were just teenage pranks with no harm intended.
Did the teenagers responsible for fire bombing a Mexican family's home in Farmingville intend to kill anyone? Absolutely not. Did the accused boys intend to burn the house down? Probably not. Did they intend to scare and/or intimidate? Probably.
If it was not their intention to specifically scare and/or intimidate this Mexican family, then why burn their house? Why would any person of any age throw explosives at a home where people lived?
Emotions are already inflamed in this community. Those among us who are trying to excuse or minimize this reprehensible act are further inflaming them.
No one, no matter what their legal status, color, religion or economic position, should be harassed, threatened or physically assaulted. The question of a person's documentation status is a legitimate concern for the members of the Farmingville community. Whatever one's viewpoint, no one has the right to harass, threaten or demean people on both sides of this issue.
As most of us know, the plight of the undocumented day laborer is a complicated one. Our local political leadership has failed us miserably. No local leader has stepped up to mediate the tensions and offer a plan to protect all those involved.
This unfortunate human circumstance is a classic example of passing the buck. Maybe the issue of undocumented immigrants is ultimately an issue for the federal government to deal with. We know that if we wait for the federal government to act, most of us will probably be dead and buried.
We need to address this issue now, before any more people are hurt, made homeless or put in jail. The government in Suffolk County and Brookhaven is not going to move on this issue. We need to look to the private sector and possibly the ecumenical religious community for a creative plan of action.
If we look to the west of us, our neighbors have a plan that is not perfect, but at least is working. We need to revive the proposal of a day laborers hiring center. This would not be just a place for those seeking work to gather, but also a place for dealing with the questions of being undocumented, helping immigrants with English, health care and other human rights issues.
The people of Suffolk are among the most compassionate that I have ever known and worked with. I am confident that if a competent plan was developed, private donations could sustain it on a temporary basis, while we continue to challenge our elected officials to act responsibly.
There are a number of us in the not-for-profit arena who would be willing to be a part of the solution rather than the indifference.
A hiring hall is not the only answer to the undocumented issues, but it is a start that might offer stability and a sense of safety and security for all who live in Farmingville. Hopefully those in power will do their jobs and work with the community to address this very sensitive, delicate human issue.
A group of teenagers have forever changed their lives, their families and the family that was victimized. That act of violence and hate cannot be minimized. These young men must be held accountable. Unfortunately, they were not born with hate. They learned that concept in our community from some of the adults they look up to.
The hate rhetoric that we have seen and heard referring to the undocumented as "low level terrorists" has not helped and has further divided this community. These young men should not be incarcerated and become statistics within our criminal justice system.
However, they should not get a slap on their wrists and be set free. Some form of alternative jail plus extensive community service among the immigrant community should be their sentence. Possibly living for six months to a year in a community residence - that will challenge them to look at their attitudes and ideologies as well as empower them to become productive citizens might be appropriate.
Possibly doing manual labor to rebuild the house they allegedly destroyed might be an appropriate consequence for their reckless and thoughtless behavior. These are young men who have a chance to change. They should not be buried in the rubble of hate and dissention festering in Farmingville.
As a community, we need to work harder at protecting all people who live in that community. We must aggressively confront the hate and injustice that is clouding an outstanding community. We must address the plight of the undocumented for the right reasons. We must never forget that we are a nation founded on immigrants. I am not condoning law breaking, however we need to put all of this in its' proper context. Every human life is sacred and must be respected accordingly, whether they are citizens, documented or undocumented.
As a community, we need to challenge government to do their jobs. We need to challenge those who exploit the undocumented regarding employment and housing to act fairly and justly.
The young people responsible for the firebombing learned to hate from somewhere. We all need to look at how we live and the example we set for our children.
These are difficult days for all of us. Since 9/11 we have seen the positive spirit of the American people. We have witnessed firsthand the courageous, compassionate hearts of ordinary Americans who truly were the heroes after that tragic day.
It will be the courage, compassion and sensitivity of the ordinary people in our larger community that will ultimately resolve the tensions in Farmingville. It will be the power of their example and their tenacious spirit that will hopefully shame the government into doing their job.