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Bellone, advocates join in supporting diversity, tolerance

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was joined Monday,

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was joined Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, at the H. Lee Dennison Building by leaders from the Human Rights Commission and Suffolk County advisory board members to recognize Human Rights Day. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Citing “some concerning acts” of hate in the county, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone joined Monday with advocates from various racial, ethnic and religious communities to reiterate his support for diversity and tolerance.

“We gather today . . . to stand in solidarity, together, against actions of hate,” Bellone said, as the county marked the Dec. 10 international observance of Human Rights Day. “We are fully prepared to tackle any extremist movements and prevent the spread of hate crimes in this region.”

He credited a reduction in hate crime the past two years to ongoing outreach to diverse communities and the work of county agencies, such as the Human Rights Commission, and partnerships with community groups.

Suffolk went from 87 reported hate crime incidents in 2014 to 69 last year and 36 this year as of the end of November. Those compare with a high of 111 cases in 2012, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Suffolk County Police Department.

Bellone said he wants the county to remain vigilant after recent incidents, such as the distribution of Ku Klux Klan “paraphernalia” and the painting of a swastika.

“All acts of hate and violence will be investigated to the fullest extent of the law. I can guarantee you that here in Suffolk County,” Bellone said.

He spoke to an audience of about 30 people in Hauppauge that included advocates from Muslim, Hispanic and African-American organizations. There’s been a flurry of events at local mosques, community centers and churches at which speakers from immigrant and ethnic groups have expressed fear of a charged political climate following Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.

Trump was elected on campaign promises that included aggressive immigration enforcement leading to deportations, and controversial proposals to ban Muslim immigrants while tracking others in the United States.

Dr. Hafiz ur Rehman, a pediatrician and member of the county Human Rights Commission, said people in his Muslim community have felt targeted by “all these little incidents” after the election, many of them “rude remarks” undermining their sense of security.

“That’s not America,” ur Rehman said. “This is a beautiful country and there’s so much diversity here and people from different areas of the world that have made this their home.”

Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizer with Latino-advocacy group Make The Road New York in Brentwood, said he was encouraged by Bellone’s commitment, but would like to see a more concrete effort involving law enforcement. He said immigrants who experience bias don’t always trust police to be on their side in the current political climate.

“Communities feel threatened right now,” Barrientos said. “This is a good first step, but we need a lot more. . . . There needs to be more of a public campaign with police chiefs saying [to vulnerable communities] ‘I am here to serve you.’ ”

Dawn Lott, the Human Rights Commission’s executive director, encouraged county residents to stand “for the rights of others” and to report suspected instances of discrimination to her agency and crimes to the police department.

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