Immigrant's killing shows tensions on Long Island
PATCHOGUE, N.Y. -- The flowers have wilted and the candles are burned out at a makeshift memorial where an immigrant from Ecuador was stabbed to death in what police say was a hate crime carried out by marauding teenagers.
Marcelo Lucero's death Nov. 8 has drawn the attention of officials in Ecuador and forced the Suffolk County executive, the co-founder of a national group against illegal immigration, to apologize for belittling the importance of the case.
Seven Patchogue-Medford High School students have been charged, one of them with murder. And the case has once again highlighted the extraordinary amount of tension between white Long Island residents and the booming Hispanic population.
At a funeral last week in the victim's hometown in Ecuador, the Rev. Jorge Moreno called Lucero's death "a product of a feeling of xenophobia that makes some people believe they are worth more than others." Ecuador's ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos, described it as a lynching.
A grand jury indictment and comments by police and prosecutors paint a picture of a group of bored high school students who regularly found enjoyment in what they called "beaner-jumping," a derogatory euphemism for attacking Hispanics.
"To them, it was a sport," Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
Immigrants on Long Island say they are often harassed, but are reluctant to go to police for fear they might be deported.
"Spanish people think the police department is the monster, you can't talk to them," said Jose Bonilla, who runs a grocery store and deli and was friendly with Lucero. "People were scared. They thought they would be asked for immigration papers, that's why they don't call."
The 37-year-old Lucero, who came to the U.S. 16 years ago and worked at a dry-cleaners, was with a friend Nov. 8 when they were surrounded near the Patchogue train station.
Lucero's friend escaped but Lucero tried desperately to fight back, smacking one of the teens with his belt, authorities said. One of the boys, 17-year-old Jeffrey Conroy, is accused of plunging a knife into Lucero's chest before running away. The prosecutor says the other six were unaware of the stabbing until Conroy told them.