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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

LI has to change along with its demographics

It didn’t take too long for Long Island’s county executives to speak out against hate — in light of a series of graffiti and other incidents in Nassau and Suffolk.

There were KKK pamphlets distributed in Patchogue; and there have been incidents of racist and anti-Semitic scrawlings in Suffolk, and in Mineola and on the campus of the community college in Nassau.

Last week, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said, “Hate crimes will not be tolerated in Nassau County and all messages of hate will be investigated and pursued by police. Residents can help combat discrimination by reporting such incidents to 911 and taking an active role in shaping and promoting inclusiveness in our society.”

And Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called a news conference, where he said, “We are fully prepared to tackle any extremist movements and prevent the spread of hate crimes in this region.”

But there’s something other than kumbaya bolstering the actions of both county executives.

Long Island is changing — scratch, that — has changed.

In Nassau, almost four of every 10 residents is nonwhite, that is, Latino, black or Asian, mixed-race or another minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimate for 2011-2015, which was released last week. In Suffolk, it’s three of every 10.

The region’s population of non-Hispanic whites, meanwhile, continues to shrink — as it has since the 1970s. By the 1980s, some demographers were predicting that as Long Island shed residents, it also would lose representation in Congress (which is based on population — both legal and illegal, by the way), and the bulk of its luster as the nation’s premier post-World War II suburb.

But the region has held on to its representation (and with it, a larger share of federal funding distributed to programs, large and small in the region’s multiple layers of government), but only because of a minority population that’s still growing.

Has Long Island lost some of that post-World War II swag? Well, yes, as have so many other suburban communities around the nation. Like them, Long Island has an increasing number of residents living in poverty since the last census estimate, for example.

And although the census update doesn’t say so, some of that is because of newer residents — and also because some longtime residents abandoned their homes and fell out of the middle class because of stagnant wages, a loss of high-paying jobs and the economic stresses of living in a region with some of the highest utility costs and taxes in the nation, all of which was covered in a recent report from the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group.

But let’s get back to Long Island’s changed racial demographics, which is slicing through almost every town in the region. And to the reality that Long Island — including the Garden City Police Department, which has yet to explain why officers roughed up a black retired correction officer they mistook for a shoplifting suspect — is going to have to change with it.

That means victims reporting hate incidents, which is no small thing in Suffolk, where the U.S. Justice Department years ago had to intercede after allegations of unfair policing of Latinos. It means police departments aggressively investigating hate incidents — and making results of those investigations public. It also means active district attorney’s offices committed to aggressive prosecution of hate crimes.

Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption-related charges, and Bellone said they want residents to report racial incidents to county police — who then, officials said, will investigate.

According to police statistics, anti-Semitic incidents — as they have for more than a decade — account for most reports, followed by racial and ethnic slurs against blacks and Latinos. In Nassau, police recently received reports on incidents against Arabs; in Suffolk, police got a report of an incident recently against a Catholic, and, just last week, against a Muslim.

“We don’t want people to think they have to determine intent, to have to determine whether what happened is a hate crime,” Dawn A. Lott, head of Suffolk’s human rights commission, said Monday. “Report the incident and let the police do their job.”

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