Lucero documentary premieres in Patchogue

Mayor Paul V. Pontieri speaks to the audience Mayor Paul V. Pontieri speaks to the audience following the advance screening of the PBS documentary 'Light in Darkness,' a film about the killing of Marcelo Lucero and the community's reaction to that hate crime. (Sept. 14, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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A PBS documentary about the killing of Marcelo Lucero and how it affected Patchogue was screened at the village's movie theater Wednesday, a week ahead of its national debut.

Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant, was assaulted by seven high school students on Nov. 8, 2008, as he walked near the Patchogue train station. Ringleader Jeffrey Conroy, a senior at Patchogue-Medford High School, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime in Lucero's stabbing death and is serving 25 years in prison.

Called "Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness," the film focused on the village's attempts to understand and learn from the killing, which divided the community and exposed long-simmering racial tensions. From major efforts, such as Suffolk police assigning Spanish-speaking officers to the village, to smaller attempts like T-shirt fundraisers for the Lucero family mounted by classmates of his attackers, the film showed the village's progress and hope.

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, at a community discussion after the screening, spoke of the tensions between longtime residents and immigrants that Lucero's death exposed.

"We had every reason in the world to explode, and we did," he said.

Reaction from the audience during the discussion was mixed. Carlos Morales of Port Jefferson said the film shortchanged the involvement of the Latino community and "was more about a group of white people feeling guilty."

Diana Berthold, whose quilt project in Lucero's memory was showcased in the film, said the documentary represented progress and "the whole point was to step forward."

Lucero's brother Joselo, who was extensively interviewed in the documentary, was invited to Wednesday's screening but declined to attend and declined to comment as well.

Film director Patrice O'Neill said she was drawn to the Lucero story because she wanted to explore "how bad the anti-immigrant rhetoric was around the country."

She said she found in Patchogue a community grappling with the causes and ramifications of the Lucero killing.

"What you see many times in communities is utter denial," O'Neill said. "There are some deep lessons from what happened to Marcelo Lucero . . . and we are excited about the potential of this film to spark conversations."

Margarita Espada -- a community advocate who wrote and directed the play "What Killed Marcelo Lucero?" -- said she had seen the film and was not convinced that it addressed the lingering tensions.

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