Clergy, anti-gang activists, lawyers, gay activists and a former FBI counter-intelligence agent gathered in Manhattan for a roundtable talk this week to brainstorm on how to fight hate crimes on Long Island and elsewhere.

The consensus: the economic downturn may increase hate crimes, and minorities have to mobilize and develop more political clout.

In Suffolk County, "there is a kind of illness, a disease, an epidemic, a sort of cancer of racial hatred," said the Rev. Alan Ramirez of the Brookville Reform Church, who assisted the family of Patchogue hate crime victim Marcelo Lucero.

Sergio Argueta of the Hempstead-based anti-gang group S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, Inc. noted that Long Island is the third most segregated suburb in the country, in terms of residential housing. He told the group, "We need to understand that if we don't do something to counter this message of hate and disdain for the immigrant community, we are just as guilty as the perpetrators" of hate crimes.

The roundtable in midtown Manhattan Tuesday attracted a half-dozen community leaders and was organized by the Manhattan law firm Ferro, Kuba, Mangano, Sklyar, P.C., which represents a number of Latino clients on Long Island. Partner William V. Ferro said that while the manslaughter as a hate crime conviction of Jeffrey Conroy in the Lucero case was "positive," much work remains to be done.

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"There is still way too much hatred in Suffolk County, way too much prejudice," he said.

Ramirez criticized the media, in particular Newsday, for what he called its failure to uncover hate crimes against Latinos "that have been taking place for at least a decade." He cited a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, in Montgomery, Ala. which, he said, indicated that such "crimes . . . were taking place right under their very noses."

Fredy Kaplan of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, an advocacy group for the gay, bisexual, and transgender community, said the economic downturn will increase hate crimes due to competition for jobs and people's general frustration levels.

Manny Gomez, a former FBI counter-intelligence agent, said, "We need to educate people there are severe penalties for" committing hate crimes. "It starts with the parents educating their children that it's wrong."