Portraying Suffolk County as a hotbed of anti-immigrant violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a scathing report Wednesday, citing numerous instances of Latino immigrants being victims of crime over the past decade, ranging from low-level harassment to vicious attacks.
Leaders of the Alabama-based organization came to Hauppauge to present the findings of its largely anecdotal report in a presentation attended by advocates for Latinos from across Long Island. "What we found is really the tip of a very ugly iceberg," said Mark Potok, director of the Center's Intelligence Report, which tracks hate groups. "What we found . . . was a pervasive atmosphere of both fear and of criminal violence."
The report, which faced some criticism, was denounced by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and Police Commissioner Richard Dormer for not including input from their agencies and said they never had been contacted by the center.
Levy's office Wednesday released a three-page statement that pointed out numerous errors in the report, such as incorrect statistics on numbers of hate crimes reported by the county, and highlighted initiatives to promote tolerance and increase police trust in the community.
"While we can continue to disagree about policies related to the economic and social impacts of illegal immigration, we can all agree that any violence against a fellow human being cannot and will not be tolerated," Levy said in a statement.
Academics said the methodology of the report wasn't thorough. Still, they said it did provide useful insight into the growing national phenomenon of hate crimes against Latinos.
"You have limited methods available to you because the population, because of their status, is not easily studied," said Pedro Noguera, a sociology professor at New York University. "So you have to be really creative. You have to look at the police reports, hospital reports; you have to be as extensive as possible. I don't think they did all that, but I would say there's enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that we need to pay attention to this."
In November, Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was fatally stabbed in Patchogue in what authorities have labeled a hate crime, sparking an ongoing federal investigation into bias crimes against Latinos in Suffolk. The center's report called Lucero's death "the apex of anti-immigrant violence in Suffolk County" but "hardly an isolated incident."
"Latino immigrants in Suffolk County are regularly harassed, taunted and pelted with objects hurled from cars," the report said. "They are frequently run off the road while riding bicycles, and many report being beaten with baseball bats and other objects. Others have been shot with BB guns or pepper-sprayed."
The report attributed the climate to a decade of anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric from Suffolk lawmakers, most notably Levy, whom it brands "the enabler." And it charges that police have failed to take the reported attacks seriously.
A statement from Dormer called the report "rife with inaccuracies" due to the center's failure to interview the Police Department, district attorney or elected officials. But Dormer said "some of the report had concrete ideas, most of which we are already implementing."
Heidi Beirich, the center's director of research, said David Holthouse, the author of the report, who could not be reached for comment, reached out to police but had trouble getting information, such as police reports. "That's why they are not in the report," she said.
She was unsure whether Levy's office and the district attorney's office were contacted.Carlos Morales, 30, said he was the victim of a violent hate crime in Farmingville in 1999, detailed in the report. Ten years later, little has changed, he said Wednesday.
"The authorities should be embarrassed they didn't do anything earlier," said the Port Jefferson resident. "Unfortunately, they waited for someone to die. This is something that's not isolated. It's been happening for a while and it took them this long to notice."