Suffolk police are investigating a possible hate crime after a trustee running for reelection in Brookhaven’s South Country school district said someone defaced one of his campaign flyers with a racist slur and stuck it in his mailbox.
Board member Cameron Trent said in an interview that a relative found the flyer Sunday before his family gathered for Mother’s Day brunch. He filed a police report Tuesday.
Suffolk police did not release the report Friday. In an email, a department spokesman said the incident "is currently classified as a hate incident and it is being investigated by the Hate Crimes Unit. As of now we have not developed the information necessary to classify it as a hate crime, but we are continuing to investigate and we are seeking any information from the public to assist in our investigation."
A picture of the flyer posted on Trent’s campaign Facebook page shows that someone had obscured his face with marker and written below that Black people should not run for office, using the racist slur.
The incident came days before Long Island’s Tuesday school board elections. In South Country, Trent and two other candidates are vying for two board seats.
Trent, 23, of Bellport, said he was the youngest board member in South Country history. A 2015 Bellport High School graduate now attending college and working in an assisted living facility, he started running for the board in 2016. He lost twice before winning a 2019 bid to serve the last two years of a departing trustee’s term.
This year’s campaign felt different from those before, he said, with "multiple instances where someone had a racial comment thrown at me." The comments were made on Facebook, never in person, he said. He said he was trying to focus on campaigning but was still reckoning with what had happened. "It makes you feel like you’re not valued, like you’re worthless," he said.
"Hate speech has no place in our schools and its presence in our community harms the hearts and minds of our students," board president E. Anne Hayes said in an email.
Superintendent Joseph Giani said in an email that district officials were aware of the incident. "We are committed to providing our students with a safe educational space that is nurturing, equitable and free from discrimination."
Elaine Gross, president of the civil rights organization ERASE Racism, said in a statement that "It is outrageous that an African American elected official on Long Island would be subjected to such disgusting treatment ... I call on every elected official on Long Island and every candidate in Tuesday’s school board elections to denounce publicly this disgraceful behavior."