In the five years since an Ecuadorean man was attacked by seven youths and stabbed to death in Patchogue, things have improved somewhat for the immigrant community but challenges remain, activists and members of the community said at a vigil for Marcelo Lucero yesterday evening.
"I don't want it to go back to five years ago. We cannot allow crimes like this to happen," said Joselo Lucero, 38, Marcelo's younger brother. But, he said, "I'm afraid we'll go back."
He still remembers the moment the detective told him his older brother had been killed. He wondered how he could tell his mother, who he said is still devastated by his death. "It was five years ago, but it feels like forever ago," he said.
On Saturday, 80 people came to the Iglesia Evangelica Refugio de Salvacion, which is on the same street where Lucero was attacked. They held a service of interfaith prayers, songs and poems calling for peace, as well as personal recollections of how the attack affected them.
They then walked a few hundred feet down the street and placed candles around a peace sign at the spot on the sidewalk where Lucero was found beaten and stabbed.
"Something changed that day for the village, for the town and for Suffolk County," said Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri.
Lucero was walking with a friend near the Patchogue train station when he was attacked by seven teens looking to assault Hispanic immigrants.
One of the attackers, Jeffrey Conroy, stabbed Lucero, 37, killing him. Conroy is serving a 25-year prison sentence after being convicted by a jury of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. The other six defendants are serving sentences ranging from 5 to 8 years.
As Newsday reported Saturday, hate crimes reported in Suffolk County jumped 200 percent last year. That's a reflection, activists said, that immigrant communities are more willing to come forward and police are taking their reports seriously.
Lisa Votino-Tarrant, who became active in the Lucero case and helps organize the annual vigil, said things for the immigrant community are "slowly improving."
"I'm hopeful," she said.
Marian Russo, 54, of Patchogue, said Saturday that she remembers five years ago, hearing of Lucero's death. "Change doesn't happen overnight," she said. "I hope we can eventually be remembered as a community that has changed."
Patrick Young, attorney for the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, pointed to some tangible results. Police are more responsive to hate crimes, and there are non-English speaking translation services for victims, Young said. "There's still a long way to go, but there has been some movement, especially in the last two years," he said.
But problems persist. Joselo Lucero said when he reads online comments to newspaper websites, he is reminded of the need to continue speaking to school groups about bullying and immigration.
Norma Panama, 45, an Ecuadorean immigrant, moved out of the Patchogue-Medford school district two years ago because, she said Saturday, her 17-year-old son was being bullied over his ethnicity.
"There continues to be suffering," Panama said.