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From Long Island Wins: October 22, 2010

Regardless of the Victims, Hate Crimes Hurt Us All

“Three men in the Bronx – two of them teenagers – held against their will and tortured by a group of young men because they were suspected of being gay.

A Muslim teen in Staten Island afraid to attend class because of constant beatings from school bullies who called him a (expletive) terrorist.”

And most recently, we saw four teens riding the bus home from school in Hicksville stomping and kicking a victim. The assailants thought he might be gay.

It’s been nearly impossible to ignore the vile rash of hate crimes in our area, with the most recent attack in Nassau County.

The attacks shock the conscience. Both because the crimes are horrific, and because these victims were targeted for no other reason than that they were different and vulnerable. To the attackers, that was reason enough for punishment.

And who were the alleged attackers? For the most part, teenagers. You should find that disturbing as well. Kids aren’t born hateful. So where do they get the idea that it’s OK to assault someone because that person is different?

The perpetrators are individuals with free will. They are culpable for their actions, and deserve to be punished. But our social climate belongs to all of us, and we’re all responsible for it. We need to look into our own homes. Are we sending our kids the message that they should respect all people, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religion?

What’s been on the TV: politicians disparaging homosexuality, pundits inciting anti-Muslim sentiment about the mosque near Ground Zero. Kids are hearing it, either directly, or filtered through the adults in their lives.

Maybe you support the mosque plan or maybe you don’t. Maybe you think everyone should have the right to marry, or maybe not. But regardless of political views, we need to monitor the messages that we send our kids. Is it a message of acceptance, or are we teaching them that some people’s lives are worth less than their own?

Just look at the seven teens who attacked and killed Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue nearly two years ago. Years of rants dehumanizing “illegal immigrants” from Suffolk politicians – not a debate about policy, but a diminishment of real human beings – preceded the crime. How many dinner tables did those rants reach?

The repercussions of a hate crime are devastating for the victim. They’re also devastating for their perpetrators, as the teens who attacked Lucero will find out as they serve their prison sentences, the longest spanning 25 years.

Two vigils are planned in Patchogue on Nov. 7 and 8 to commemorate Lucero’s death, a reminder that hateful words have consequences. Let’s use this anniversary as a chance to change the dialogue. We hope to see you there.

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at www.LongIslandWins.com.