On Nov. 8, 2008, 37 year-old Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death by a group of young men while walking with his friend through the streets of Patchogue. His seven attackers — teenagers and students at Patchogue-Medford High School — were engaged in their weekly ritual of assaulting Latinos for sport.
They called their violent hobby “beaner hunting.”
Ten years after Lucero’s murder, his brother Joselo joined Patchogue and Stony Brook University community leaders at the Student Activities Center Thursday night for an “educational vigil” about Marcelo’s life, death and legacy.
“This whole night is about setting the mood for remembering Marcelo, but also about inspiring people to take action,” Ian Lesnick, a senior Spanish and linguistics double major, Director of Diversity Affairs for Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government and the main organizer of Thursday’s event, said. “Showing the memory of the loss of life but also showing how different people act and take action.”
Event-goers from around Long Island were invited to take a moment of silence for victims of violence across the country, including the dead from the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and Wednesday night’s shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California that left 12 dead. Dozens of LED candles rimmed the auditorium stage, and people were encouraged to write the name of people they had lost on sheets of paper beside them.
Patchogue-Medford school district superintendent Michael Hynes took his current position five years after the Lucero killing. He noted that the tragedy was a catalyst for positive change in the community.
“If there ever is a silver lining in something that’s terrible that has happened, it has to be the fact that we have to continue to make a difference every single day,” Hynes said.
Hynes told the audience how Lucero’s death inspired the district to take strides to integrate its diverse population into a single community. In the last 10 years, the district has hired Spanish-speaking staff across all departments and implemented a dual-language program that gives its students a bilingual education from an early age. Joselo Lucero tells his brother’s story to middle schoolers each year to prevent Marcelo’s story from fading into the past.
“I was asked before whether our students 10 years on remember,” Hynes said. “My job and our job is to make sure every generation moving forward never forgets. Because there is a lot to learn, and we still have a long way to go.”
The vigil’s centerpiece was the screening of “Deputized,” a documentary about Lucero’s death and the response it prompted from his friends, family, Patchogue and Suffolk County.
For Patchogue-Medford High librarian Lissetty Thomas, seeing the film brought back memories of 10 years past.
“I was living in Patchogue when all of this happened, and this is very much reliving it,” Thomas said. “The district and the library both try to have more available for people. I think they’re helping, especially with having more Spanish-speaking staff, but I feel like there’s always more to do.”
The movie noted how the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) characterized the murder as an anomaly in a county that had only one documented anti-Latino hate crime in the preceding 11 months. That prompted over 50 Latinos in the community to disclose their experiences being targeted to a reverend at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, and the ensuing controversy caused the United States Justice Department to investigate the SCPD for racial bias.
Before the vigil started, senior social work major Jonathan Gomez admitted he was not familiar with Lucero’s story. He came at his professor’s insistence to supplement a class he is taking on youth and violence.
Gomez was appalled after watching the documentary.
“It’s very upsetting to me to see that youth in Long Island are engaging in these hate crimes,” Gomez said. “It’s just shocking that children even have the gall to go after a grown man. I really hope that as a community we can band together to put an end to situations like this.”
Still, watching people from across Long Island band together to ensure history never repeats itself gave Gomez hope.
“Seeing a group of individuals gather tonight to honor Lucero is incredible,” Gomez said. “It’s good to see that people are taking actions and figuring ways that we can put an end to this and contain these horrible social issues that occur in our community.”
Joselo said watching the film, which came out in 2012, is always a painful experience for him. He relieved the experience over and over again while the documentary was being put together, and he hopes sharing his brother’s story inspires others to stand up for their beliefs.
“How can we move forward,” Joselo said. “The purpose of the film is just that, looking at yourself. Nobody had an idea [who my brother was.] But I can tell you that; he was a brave man. He stood up for himself. He didn’t run or hide, he said ‘this is enough’ and he died for what he believed.”