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Smaller crowd at Suffolk's second hate crimes forum

Blocks from where Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was killed last November, the task force investigating Suffolk's hate crimes drew a tepid response last night.

Only 14 people addressed the panel's Patchogue hearing, less than half the number who spoke at its first hearing last month in Wyandanch. About 70 people overall attended, down from around 100 at the first hearing.

"They still need to do a little bit better outreach," said Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance. "That's going to result in getting more folks out to speak."

Like the first hearing, last night's event drew speakers lobbying for funding for their organizations or churches to help address hate crimes. But it also attracted Francisco Hernandez of Patchogue, who said he and his family had been hate crime victims.

Hernandez, 35, a member of Suffolk's Hispanic Advisory Board, said when he was a crime victim a Suffolk Police officer asked to see his driver's license to "verify that I was an American citizen." "Let's change some of the policies in the police department," Hernandez said.

Immediately after Hernandez spoke, Suffolk Police attending the hearing began interviewing him.

Hernandez said later he was pressured by Mel Guadalupe, County Executive Steve Levy's minority affairs director, not to speak at the meeting and told he would be removed from the advisory board if he did.

Guadalupe denied the charge. "I never said that," he said. Hernandez said he plans to resign from the board in October.

Unlike the first meeting, speakers last night avoided criticizing Levy.

"We're dealing with cowards who hide in the shadows," said John Bogack of Patchogue. "The police need the support of the community and every single tool they can get."

One speaker, Barrett Psareas of Cedarhurst, said the county's hate crime problem is rooted in illegal immigration. "Unfortunately in this country the government does nothing to protect people from those who are illegally in the country," he said.

The meeting was the second of four for the Legislature's Hate Crimes Task Force, charged with delivering a report on the origin of the county's pattern of hate crimes. The next one is set for Sept. 22 in Riverhead.

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