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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

When racism has no fear

A demonstrator holds up a fist in Portland,

A demonstrator holds up a fist in Portland, Ore., during a protest against police brutality and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. Experience shows those who spew hate don't have much to worry about. Credit: AP/Craig Mitchelldyer

When Long Island real estate agent Jared Aversano posted a violently racist video on Twitter recently, he was operating without fear of consequences. That he now faces consequences does not change the fact that he and others spout filth because they’ve spent their lifetimes learning that doing so is just fine.

Their friends and family never taught them otherwise, maybe because they felt the same way or maybe they were afraid to speak up. Society taught them it was OK.

Aversano’s parents own RE/MAX Eastern Properties in Ronkonkoma, where he worked until mom and dad fired him after his 14-second post disproved the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” In his video, Aversano, holding an assault weapon, says: “My response to the looting and rioting that’s going on ... I wish a [N-word] would. I went out and spent $1,300 bucks on this [expletive, referring to the weapon]. Please, I want to use it.”

This shouldn’t be the attitude that describes Long Island, of a white man who is scared of conspiratorial reports of so-called marauding black people, shooting off racial epithets and death threats, confident no repercussions will result. Often, though, these attitudes and actions crop up.

The Malverne school district’s Louise Piacente-Aguilar, a teaching assistant for 23 years, was operating with the same confidence level when she posted a picture of mostly black people peacefully protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, along with the comment, “They should have ran each and everyone of these animals over and than [sic] go back and forth over them to make sure they did not miss any.”

In her district, 48% of the students are black. More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling for her firing.

Then there is retired Nassau County Police Department Officer Edward Serrao, who got caught on video using the N-word in a confrontation with a protester in Merrick last week. Serrao stood by his venom, repeatedly using the N-word in an interview with a Newsday reporter and arguing, “My rage is about cops being portrayed as evil and about black people taking a license when stuff like this happens to go haywire.”

And at least four restaurant owners, two with locations in Huntington and two with spots in Freeport, have been caught off guard by the angry reaction to their racist public proclamations toward protests and black participants.

The eyes of Derek Chauvin, as he dug his knee into Floyd’s neck as onlookers screamed that he was killing Floyd, are entirely serene in the video whose shooting also did nothing to cow him. The three other officers weren’t worried enough to make a peep.

And all four felt comfortable filing a police report completely at odds with the video.

We know systemic racism exists because we can catalog the effects. Newsday investigations on housing, education and policing have quantified racist outcomes. But we also know that these racist attitudes exist because of life experience, and because of outbursts like these.

At a moment when so many of us wonder what our part is in combating racism and fostering unity, there is one thing we can do that’s obvious but not easy: tell our racist friends and relatives and co-workers to shut their mouths whenever they share their racist filth.

People ought to know it is completely unacceptable to be a racist, to present prejudice and rage and hate and venom as reasonable and acceptable. It’s everybody’s job to challenge and embarrass anyone, including our friends and family and co-workers and neighbors, when they share such attitudes.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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