More than 100 anti-KKK demonstrators, some carrying signs with messages such as “Hate Not Welcome Here,” rallied Sunday in Patchogue Village singing songs and offering spoken-word poetry promoting diversity.
“I just want to come out to show a strong public response against the violence and the bigotry that the KKK represents,” said Jennifer Bradshaw, 45, of Patchogue, where Ku Klux Klan pamphlets appeared last week. “I love the community for its diversity.”
Suffolk County police said KKK fliers were distributed Thursday in a parking lot in Patchogue, but noted the material contained no criminality.
Despite that, local residents were galvanized to rally for diversity. Patchogue is demographically 30 percent Latino and 5 percent black, and has a large Ecuadorean population.
“Our diversity is our strength, and we want to communicate that our differences cannot be used as leverage for division,” said Jen Brady Cotter, a Patchogue resident who helped organize the event through the “Not In Our Town” Facebook page.
Protesters responded to the call, gathering on Terry Street, behind the Patchogue-Medford Library.
Bradshaw said she was “shocked” that KKK fliers have been distributed at least three times since she moved to the area in February. She said the hate literature does not reflect the attitude of the community and must be fought.
Racism “is real, it exists, it’s showing its head more than ever,” she said. “Alt-right movements are getting a much greater voice due to the increased attention from the media since the election.”
Brandon Elsbree, 51, of Patchogue, said he has lived in the community for 30 years and remembers experiencing anti-Semitism when he was in high school — but said the community has embraced diversity and come together since Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was killed in November 2008 by a group of teens from out of town.
“When Lucero was killed, there was a big outpouring of love in this town, and it really seemed to stick,” said Elsbree, who held a sign that read: “Hate is not Welcome in Patchogue; Make America Love Again.”
The mostly white crowd invoked Lucero’s name several times throughout the morning as participants called for peace and said that people of color should not have to live in fear.
“After Marcelo was murdered, we said, ‘Never again,’ ” Cotter said. “Now we see these incidents on the rise, and we feel like it’s time for us to firmly reject hate in our community . . . People have worked so hard to heal from those wounds, and we just don’t want to go back there.”
KKK pamphlets have also appeared in other Long Island communities in recent years, including Hampton Bays, Shirley, East Patchogue, Babylon, Wantagh and Rockville Centre.
KKK pamphlets were also distributed in the village in May, shortly after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump attended a Suffolk County GOP fundraiser just a few hundred feet from where Lucero died.
After the presidential election, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a statewide hotline for reporting bias and discrimination: 888-392-3644.