- On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger aboard a Montgomery bus in the state of Alabama, an incident which is now known worldwide as the event that ignited the civil rights movement. Fifty three years to the day members of the Town of Southampton's Anti-Bias Task Force met on the steps of Town Hall to voice their concerns over racism and what they contend is an undercover way in which hate crimes remain unidentified in Southampton and throughout Suffolk County.
Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island branch of the
NAACP, called the killing of Marcelo Lucero a "lynching."
"Our own community has also been touched by acts of hate," asserted the task force's Co-Chairperson Dianne Rulnick, shouting into a large hand-held megaphone. "But we hope that by coming together today as members of the Anti-Bias Task Force and residents of the greater Southampton community, working together with community leaders, we can stand up against the rhetoric of hate and replace it with a message of hope."
The press conference came on the heels of an incident interpreted as hate-related occurred at the end of October when residents discovered a tied noose hanging from a Long Island Power Authority
tower in a wooden area along Town Line Road and the Long Pond Greenbelt near Sag Harbor. Under New York State legislation passed on Nov. 1, the hanging of a noose as a means of intimidation is now considered a crime.
That incident coupled with one far worse, the Nov. 8 murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, has made it all too clear to members of the task force that racism and hatred are forces to contend with if living in Suffolk County. Lucero died from stab wounds incurred during an attack by seven male high-school students from the Patchogue-Medford area.
"That was a lynching, which is injury by mob violence," asserted task force member Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "There are still some hoods and gowns in some of the closets around here."
Several members of the task force, including local author Bob Zellner, whose most recent book recounts his experiences as a civil rights activist in the 1960s, blamed an atmosphere of fear for keeping local residents from reporting incidents of harassment, racism and hate. Many of Zellner's accusations pointed the finger at Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy
Members of the task force also noted that controversy over immigration on the East End needs to be addressed.
"The County Executive has led the legislature, police and citizens to a place where victims are afraid to report crimes and police are afraid to call a hate crime a hate crime," Zellner asserted. "No hate crimes investigated apparently equals zero hate crimes happening in eastern Long Island. As long as hate crimes are not investigated and ignored, Suffolk County's conscience is clear," Zellner charged.
Co-Chair Rulnick also made note that there has never been a reported hate crime registered in Suffolk County, alluding to institutional and structural racism at play, allowing some county residents to be treated unfairly due to the color of their skin. For Zellner, institutional racism includes refusing to utilize the Suffolk County Hate Crimes Unit. "It's time to identify those responsible for institutional racism here in Long Island," he asserted.
Local author and civil rights activist Bob Zellner blamed County
Executive Steve Levy for creating an atmosphere of fear.
However, on Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Levy fiercely denied any claims that his office has created an atmosphere of fear.
"Some of these critics have forgotten that it was County Executive Steve Levy who was the driving force in convincing the New York State Legislature to amend and strengthen the hate crimes law this year to include nooses as a symbol of hate toward African-Americans," asserted the county executive's Director of Communications Dan Aug. "The county executive led the charge in seeking justice for [Judith Mitchell] the Southampton employee who was the target of racial intimidation."
According to Rulnick, the finding of the noose is the last in a string of what the task force recently perceived to be hate crimes, including a brick thrown through the window of a home occupied by an Asian family, threatening graffiti written on a trailer located on the Shinnecock Reservation, and several anti-immigrant incidents.
Members of the Task Force said Monday that they are unhappy with the way crimes such as these have been handled throughout Southampton town in the past. Recently, the group lobbied the town board to pass a resolution requiring that the Southampton Town Police Department communicate a policy on hate crime investigations to the board.
In response to the resolution requesting the policy, Rulnick said police have now mandated that incidents classified as hate crimes will be given to the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crimes Unit, which will assume primary investigative responsibilities.
"We can all contribute to unity and success in our community," Rulnick avowed. "We ask our government leaders to continue their recent good work to make the town of Southampton a better, more integrated place for all residents to live. Working together to overcome prejudice in Southampton is crucial," she added. "We can be a welcoming community and a good neighbor."