Where Donald Trump goes, protesters follow. By now that’s a given. But in the small Long Island town of Patchogue, where Trump passed through Thursday on his tour ahead of today’s New York primary, he drew more than demonstrators last week. He also attracted mourners.
Trump was in town to headline a $150-per-person fundraiser for the Suffolk County Republican Party at the invitation of its chairman, John Jay LaValle. Trump supporters waited outdoors for the event with signs of support for the Republican front-runner. A whole block away, down a street which police officers shut down, Trump critics were cordoned off in their own protest area. Except for when a handful of Trump supporters wandered over looking for a confrontation, police officers made sure that the two parties never met. And three blocks even further away, just as Donald Trump was set to speak, Joselo Lucero addressed a crowd of Patchogue residents who gathered for a vigil for his brother Marcelo at the spot where he was killed in a 2008 hate-crime attack. The three separate gatherings offered a window into how this election has played out across the country and, townspeople warn, a preview of what may await the rest of the country if Trump’s rallying cries go unchecked.
“To have someone so anti-immigrant come four blocks away from where my brother was killed, this is not easy for me,” said Joselo Lucero, through anguished tears. “This is a terrible day.”
Trump’s visit to Patchogue stirred up barely soothed anguish of Lucero’s violent stabbing; to many, Trump is whipping up the very anti-immigrant rhetoric that led to the Ecuadorian immigrant’s death seven years ago.
The lesson Patchogue residents have learned is that anti-immigrant rhetoric is not just harmless talk. The more that anti-immigrant sentiment, layered with xenophobia and anti-Latino racism, hangs in the air, the more it permeates a political culture. Kids pick up on it when the adults around them target one group of people for the color of their skin. Patchogue residents say Lucero paid with his life for people in town to learn that lesson.
It was a late fall evening in 2008 when seven local teens, including Jeffrey Conroy headed to the Patchogue LIRR train station to pick up one of their favorite pastimes: “beaner-jumping.” The kids would look for obvious immigrants to beat up and shout epithets and throw beer bottles at. Undocumented immigrants in particular—but what does an undocumented immigrant look like?—were prized targets because they were typically paid under the table and were known to carry cash on them. It wasn’t just kids; immigrants were run off the road and beaten, their homes were raided by local police; county executive Steve Levy defended police raids of immigrant homes, and warned that Southampton Hospital would close its maternity ward because women were arriving in the U.S. to give birth “free of charge.” When the teens came upon Lucero, who was with a friend, they punched Lucero, who reportedly swung back with his belt. Conroy, then 17 and a star athlete, pulled out a knife and stabbed Lucero in the chest. The teens fled and Lucero died in the street. The last words he heard were slurs.