Latinos in Suffolk County are routinely the target of violent attacks and harassment, the Southern Poverty Law Center concludes in a report to be released Wednesday that examines what it says is a pervasive anti-immigrant climate fostered by community leaders.
"We're hoping that we've been able to demonstrate that there really is a climate of fear on the ground in Suffolk," said Heidi Beirich, director of research at the center. "The most shocking finding was that violence is so widespread in this community . . . from low-level harassment up to serious beatings."
The center will present its findings at a news conference this morning in the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.
In a news release, the center said the report will document numerous crimes against Latinos beyond the November killing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant stabbed in Patchogue in what authorities have labeled a hate crime.
Beirich said of the more than 70 Latino immigrants interviewed for the report, about 20 to 25 were victims of a crime in the past few years. Some of the alleged cases fit the classification of a hate crime, he said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who has been accused by some advocates of fostering an anti-immigrant climate, said in a statement Tuesday, "I know I speak for all of the good, law-abiding people of this county in denouncing all acts of crime and violence against all persons. We welcome any information that can be provided to assist the district attorney in pursuing accusations."
The report comes on the heels of four hate crime arrests in Suffolk last week, three involving the assault last month of an Ecuadorean in Patchogue.
Shortly after Lucero's death LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a Manhattan-based civil rights group, provided what it said was documentation of bias attacks against Latinos in Suffolk, sparking an ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into such crimes.
Advocates and officials who helped with the center's report said its findings are significant.
"The strong findings of the report are quite alarming and I think raise serious questions," said Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and contributing editor of the report.
Anthony Miranda, executive chairman of the National Latino Officers Association of America, said he was a consultant on the report. "It speaks to how a climate is created where this type of intolerance is allowed," said Miranda, a retired sergeant in the New York City Police Department. "From a law enforcement perspective, the police department has to be more responsive. It's a matter of people being afraid. They are afraid to come forward."