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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 72/No. 47      December 1, 2008

 
(lead article)
2,000 in N.Y. protest killing of immigrant
County measures encouraged attacks
 
El Diario-La Prensa/Manny Patiño
Protesters at vigil November 14 in Patchogue, New York, demand justice for Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero, who was stabbed to death in a racist attack by a gang a week earlier.

BY CINDY JAQUITH  
PATCHOGUE, New York—More than 2,000 people turned out for a candlelight vigil November 14 to demand justice for Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero, who was stabbed to death here in a racist anti-immigrant lynching by a gang of youth November 8. Seven local high school students have been arrested for the crime.

Lucero, 38, worked as a presser at a dry cleaning shop. Construction workers, landscapers, janitors, and day laborers, along with their families, converged for the vigil on the spot where he was murdered. Most were Ecuadoran, but some U.S.-born residents of the area joined them, as did immigrant rights activists. Protesters also came from New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Simultaneously, residents in Lucero’s hometown of Gualaceo, Ecuador, also gathered, some listening to the speeches here via cell phone.

Patchogue is located in Suffolk County, Long Island, notorious for the anti-immigrant policies of government officials. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat, has pushed through laws barring landlords from renting to workers without papers, contractors from hiring employees who do not have work authorization, and restrictions on where day laborers may gather to seek work. Levy initially told Newsday that Lucero’s killing was getting blown out of proportion because the media wanted to slander his administration. In any other county, he said, the murder would be “a one-day story.” He later had to apologize.

At the vigil many people waved signs calling for “Justicia para Marcelo” (Justice for Marcelo). One man held a sign saying, “Not a one-day story.” An Ecuadoran stood on the roof of a house with a huge sign reading, “Crimes of hate in Suffolk are the fruits of Steve Levy.”

The government’s attacks on immigrant workers has emboldened rightist forces in this county. In 2000 two day laborers were offered a job in the nearby town of Farmingville and taken to an isolated location where two racists beat them within inches of their lives. In 2003 a Mexican family’s home in Farmingville was firebombed.

Fernando Lucero, no relation to Marcelo, works as a framer in construction. Interviewed at the vigil, he said immigrants are frequently subject to verbal harassment on the streets.

Rafael, a landscaper from Ecuador who asked that his full name not be used, said that landlords charge immigrants who can’t produce documents hundreds of dollars more for rent. The housing is filthy, he added. His tiny daughter pulled at his sleeve and yelled, “Tell her about the rats!”

“Anything you try to do is a problem,” Rafael said, “buying a car, going to the hospital.” The bosses also abuse undocumented immigrants. He has worked for the same company for three years and has never gotten a raise. Rafael does not receive overtime pay regardless of how many hours he puts in. “We need a union,” he said.

Armando, an unemployed construction worker from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, came to the vigil on a bus organized by several Ecuadoran groups. He is active in Proyecto de Trabajadores Latinoamericanos (Latin American Workers Project). Many undocumented workers, he said, are not even paid minimum wage.

The lynching of Lucero “is outrageous,” said Elbidio Molina, who came with 20 other janitors belonging to Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. A fellow union member in the delegation added that “being African American, we’ve been through this.”

A broad speakers platform at the vigil reflected the deep opposition the killing has provoked. A young construction worker, and member of the glaziers union in Manhattan, spoke about the abuses immigrant workers face in that industry and the importance of labor solidarity with them. Arturo Vilches from the Workplace Project addressed the crowd, noting the refusal of many employers to provide medical care to immigrant workers injured on the job. Daphne Irizarry of the Long Island Teachers Association and Lucius Ware, representing the East Long Island NAACP, also spoke.

Lucero’s brother Joselo and a host of Ecuadoran organizations addressed the rally. The Ecuadoran consul-general has called for prosecutors to upgrade charges against Jeffrey Conroy, accused of stabbing Lucero, from first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime to second-degree murder. The other six youth are charged with gang assault.

New York State Senate minority leader Malcolm Smith spoke, urging “swift action against those that committed this crime.” Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri also appeared. As he started speaking many workers chanted “Justicia!” and “Criminales!” (Criminals). Pontieri sought to dampen the crowd’s militancy, saying, “Yes, it’s true this is for justice. But we also have to see ourselves as a community.”

The Long Island Immigrant Alliance has called for another demonstration at the Suffolk County legislature building in nearby Hauppauge December 2.
 
 
Related articles:
Justice for Marcelo Lucero!

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