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Trayvon Martin case: Activists welcome Zimmerman charges

Douglas Mayer, president of the Freeport Roosevelt chapter

Douglas Mayer, president of the Freeport Roosevelt chapter of the NAACP, speaks about the arrest of George Zimmerman. (April 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A group of Nassau County civil rights activists on Friday welcomed the filing of murder charges against the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Florida, while lamenting what they called a rise in hate crimes on Long Island and nationwide.

"We're pleased Mr. [George] Zimmerman has been arrested, and we expect the legal system will do its job," Garden City civil rights attorney James Vagnini said. "But there has been a rise in racially motivated incidents in this country."

Vagnini, NAACP officials and others held a news conference at the Coral House in Baldwin on Friday, two days after Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla.

Prosecutors say Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, followed and confronted the black teenager after police dispatchers told him to back off. Zimmerman says Martin attacked him after he had turned away and was returning to his vehicle.

On Friday, the Florida judge hearing the Zimmerman case announced that her husband works for the law firm of Mark NeJame, which has been hired to act as an analyst for CNN for the case. Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler said she had an ethical obligation to make the disclosure and allow Zimmerman's attorney or the special prosecutor to ask her to step down.

No one has made that request yet, but Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said the issue concerns him and that next week he may ask Recksiedler to give the case to another judge.

At the Baldwin news conference, Leah Jefferson, of Patchogue, a former regional director of the state Division of Human Rights who now works in women's health care, said she saw an increase in job and housing discrimination complaints on Long Island shortly before she left the job five years ago. "It doesn't seem that anything has changed," she said, referring to the Martin shooting.

Freeport-Roosevelt NAACP President Douglas Mayers said swastikas and nooses symbolizing the lynching of black men are still being found on Long Island. "There were recently reports of a swastika in Elmont, and I'm hearing about nooses all over the place," he said.

Last summer in West Hempstead, a building door frame on Westminster Road was marked with profanity and a swastika symbol.

In Nassau, police reported 29 racially motivated crimes in 2008, 20 in 2009, 12 in 2010 and 13 in 2011. So far this year, police said, there have been four reported complaints. The Suffolk County Police Department did not respond to requests for data Friday.

Suffolk police noted last year that increased attention to crimes against Hispanics following the 2008 stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero contributed to a jump in hate-crime reports. Such reports, after dropping for two consecutive years, went from 62 in 2008 to 80 in 2009.

According to the latest available data from the state Division of Criminal Justice, 699 hate crime incidents were reported in New York in 2010, an increase of 2 percent over 2009.

The most frequently reported bias motivations for hate crimes in 2010 were anti-Jewish (31 percent), anti-black (20 percent), anti-male homosexual (16 percent) and anti-Hispanic (8 percent).

This story has been clarified to reflect that in Nassau, police reported 29 racially motivated crimes in 2008, 20 in 2009, 12 in 2010 and 13 in 2011.

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