Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report, A Climate of Fear." It underscored a deep concern that people of color, both documented and undocumented, live in fear within our larger community. The report went on to say that we have a problem with hate and discrimination in Suffolk County.
One would have hoped that this report would have been a wake-up call for those who lead us. Unfortunately, the response from many in power was a defensive rebuttal suggesting statistical and chronological errors. They should have acknowledged that we
have a serious problem regarding respect and tolerance of people s differences.
However, it is not a government problem. It's a community problem.
The vast majority of our people in Suffolk County are not hateful and do not turn a deaf ear to racism and discrimination. Unfortunately, we tend to be too passive when confronting these disturbing issues.
As a community, we should be outraged by the content of this report. The report demands an answer, not a rebuttal. The Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights in a recent editorial urged the religious leaders of our county to give voice from the pulpit in condemning hate crimes and racism by calling all Suffolk County residents to action.
The Irish writer Edmund Burke said, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." We cannot remain silent any longer, and do nothing! On this issue, we cannot look to government for forceful leadership. We the people
have to stand up and be counted. We must take a united stand against all forms of bias. The heartless murder of Marcelo Lucero last November by a group of local high school students is a painful reminder that hate is alive in our community, especially among our
young. Mr. Lucero's senseless murder is an extreme example of how hate is out of control in our midst.
After that tragedy, it became apparent across the county that fear is paralyzing victims and people who know of hate crimes from coming forward. What is even more disturbing, as I talk to young people across the county in our high schools and colleges is the lack of tolerance and respect not only for the undocumented but for people in general, who are different, whether it's based on color, race, religion, sexual orientation or social class.
In the last few weeks, I've heard countless heartbreaking stories of people being shunned because of difference. Besides the demeaning language being directed at people
who are different, we are living in a climate where people are too free to physically harass and assault people they don't like. That behavior is out of control!
In my college sociology class I recently took a survey asking this class of thirty five college coeds about the social climate in the pubs and clubs they frequent on the
weekend. Twenty students out of the thirty five socialize at least one night on the weekend at a local pub or club. Nineteen out of twenty students, said every weekend in the places that they frequent there are at least two or three altercations. Most are pushing,
shoving and cursing with a few escalating to actual fist fights. Most of the conflicts erupt around disrespectful comments. The students surveyed said it's not getting better,
but rather it's getting worse.
During the summer, it's commonplace on a summer night to hear young people as they drive by shout demeaning comments from their cars to the Latinos walking uptown after a long day's work. I hear it and see it because I live on Main Street in uptown Port Jefferson.
The worst expression of hate and discrimination that I've encountered recently had to do with a 22-year-old white heroin addict from our larger community. He was beaten up by a group of teenagers, because he smelled.
This young man had nothing. He was living along the railroad tracks between Port Jefferson and Stony Brook, sleeping in the woods. He would eat at local soup kitchens and would occasionally take a shower at a friend s house.
Unfortunately, this young man is always high, very dirty looking and he did smell. This past summer, a group of high school students encountered this young man on the south side of the railroad tracks, and they started to tease him. They formed a circle around him and started to push him and spit on him. He bent over, to protect himself and fell. The group surrounding him took that as an opportunity to kick him and step all over him.
Many people saw what was going on and did nothing. One man did call the police. As a police car approached, the teenagers fled. The victim saw the police coming got up, and although he was bleeding, he ran. He was afraid because of his addiction and his
troubles in the past with the police. He disappeared into the woods and has never been seen again.
Those teenagers who victimized the heroin addict weren't born mean. They learned that behavior from the adults in our larger community. Hate and discrimination has many different faces. We need to confront it all and say loud and clearly, no more. As a
community we must have a zero tolerance for hate, violence and discrimination.
All people are created equal, no matter what their social circumstances. The hate infecting our community is colorblind, and knows no boundaries.