A man named Marcello was walking with a friend on Saturday night in Patchogue, Long Island. As they walked a car pulled up and seven young men got out and surrounded them. The teenagers, all 16 and 17 years old, hurled racial slurs at the two men before attacking them. Marcello’s friend managed to escape and run for help while Marcello tried to fight back. He was overpowered, beaten, and stabbed in the chest. By the time help arrived it was too late, Marcello had died. Now let me put this to you another way: on Saturday night a man on Long Island was lynched by a mob.
According to Assistant District Attorney Nancy Clifford in Central Islip, the seven suspects did not know Marcello Lucero or have any reason to harm him, in their own words they wanted to “find some Mexicans to f— up.”
Of the seven teens, “Their motivation was to find Latinos and to assault them. That’s what they went out to do that night and that’s exactly what they did,” said Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick.
Friends described Marcello, who is of Ecuadorian descent, as a peaceful man.
The teenagers are being charged with a hate crime. It is clear by the words they used to describe the victim that they believed his life to be worthless because he was Latino. So when do dehumanizing words used to describe one’s sexuality, gender, ethnicity, or skin color cease to be just words and begin to incite violence? There is no hard and fast rule to determine when someone is inciting hateful actions using hateful words, but we know that minimizing hate speech contributes to an environment where acceptance and tolerance flourish, and hate crimes decrease.
We also know that hateful words used publicly often become uglier and more frequent when they are used privately. Yet we still hear terms like “illegal alien“, “wetback“, and “anchor baby” used to describe Latino immigrants on TV and radio all the time, and often in conjunction with negative and false news stories.
Yesterday I happened to drive through an old neighborhood of mine on the West side of Chicago. I guess because of the euphoria that had swept my city just a week earlier I expected it to look different, but it hadn’t changed at all. It occurred to me that despite the recent election and a renewed hope for America’s future, change had not yet come to America. Real change lies on the shoulders and tongues of everyday people. It lies in the decisions we make each day to either ignore, use, or fight against hate.
We will condemn the perpetrators of this heinous crime, and they will spend many years behind bars, as they should. But these boys were not born hating Latinos. They learned how to hate. They may have learned some of it from their parents or their peers, but they learned a least a little from all of us. We, as a society, must accept the blame for Marcello’s death, and we, as a people, must wipe hateful rhetoric from our airwaves, our public discussions, and finally our own homes. There should be no tolerance for hate crimes in this country and no tolerance for the words and forces that create the space for bigotry in American society.