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Racist incidents mar excitement over Obama election

By Jason Fink

The election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president has been hailed as a milestone of racial reconciliation, but it has also exposed some of the ugly truths about prejudice in America.

Even in New York, where Obama is hugely popular and racial tolerance is often worn as a badge of virtue, a recent spate of violent incidents show a backlash by some already inclined towards hate. It also proved that the goal of racial harmony remains a long way off.

“You are always going to see people who hang on to their prejudices,” said L’Heureux Lewis, an assistant professor of sociology and black studies at City College.

“The work of reconciliation doesn’t come from having historical amnesia,” said Lewis, who called for a deeper, more genuine conversation about race.On Staten Island, two white men have been charged with hate crimes for beating 17-year-old Alie Kamara, a Liberian native, with a pipe on election night while yelling “Obama.”

Authorities said today they are still seeking others in connection with the incident, described as “a despicable crime” by Staten Island District Assistant District Attorney Mario Mattei.

Also on Staten Island, residents of a racially diverse neighborhood awoke last week to find Swastikas and anti-Obama graffiti scrawled on cars and buildings.

Meanwhile, on Long Island, Ku Klux Klan literature was distributed last week in Suffolk County and graffiti reading “Kill Obama” was written on cars, prompting a Secret Service investigation.

These follow hundreds of incidents of racial threats throughout the country since the election, including the burning of crosses on the yards of Obama supporters.

However, it’s not clear whether these acts represent an increase in overall hate crime.

“This country’s history (of discrimination) can’t be overturned or reversed through one political event but through a series of small steps over the course of many generations,” said Ilya Leybovich, 22, of Prospect Heights.

The NYPD did not respond to requests for information yesterday on bias crimes in the city.

“Unfortunately, incidents of hate violence remind people that racism still exists,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

She said that the hope expressed by some that with Obama’s election, America entered a “post racial” period is probably naïve.

Jon Erario, 33, of Staten Island, called the election of Obama “a step in the right direction.”

“Hate crimes will always be around,” he said. “The election didn’t totally eradicate that, but it opened people’s eyes.”

Aline E. Reynolds and the AP contributed to this report.

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