The Southampton Town Police Department has agreed to work with the Suffolk County Hate Crimes Unit on all future investigations of hate crimes in the town.
Members of the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force announced the decision at a press conference on the steps of Southampton Town Hall on Monday.
The task force had pushed the Town Board to ask the police department to establish a policy for dealing with hate crimes after a spate of race-related incidents in the region in the wake of the election last month of Barack Obama, the first African-American candidate to be elected president of the United States.
The week before the election, town police found a noose hanging from a LIPA utility pole near Town Line Road in Bridgehampton, and in the days following the election, racist graffiti targeting Mr. Obama was found scrawled on 40 cars in Mastic. Seven teenagers were charged in the stabbing death of an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, in Patchogue just days after the election. The teenagers had reportedly been planning to “beat up some Mexicans.”
“Outrageous, outrageous, outrageous,” said Eastern Long Island NAACP president Lucius Ware, who was one of the three speakers at the press conference, which was called on the anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus.
“We are here today because of the abysmal record that our local officials have concerning hate crime,” he said. “On incidents that might be hate related, the case often ends with no report, inconclusive findings or no findings at all,” he added.
Town Police Chief James Overton had been charged with drafting the new policy. A section of the new policy reads that “once it has been determined that an incident may be of a bias incident or hate crime nature,” the Suffolk County Hate Crimes Unit will be responsible for determining if the incident was a hate crime. Chief Overton is still developing a procedure for determining when an incident may be a hate crime.
“Not long ago, a black-faced mannequin was hanged from a tree in our town,” said the task force’s co-chair, Dianne Rulnick, referring to an incident on Majors Path in 2006. The police did not pursue that incident as a hate crime and instead stated that they could not prove that the mannequin was meant to look like an African-American.
“Nooses conjure terror in the hearts of our citizens and especially in the hearts of African-Americans, who have experienced untold suffering for generations,” she said. “We all know how nooses have been used to kill and terrorize our African-American brothers and sisters all too frequently.”
Ms. Rulnick also made mention of a recent incident in which bricks were thrown through the window of a new Asian family in Southampton Town, a recent spate of anti-Semitic advertisements and e-mails in Westhampton Beach over the creation of an Orthodox Jewish boundary known as an eruv, and racist graffiti found on a trailer on Shinnecock Indian land three years ago.
“Why have these incidents occurred?” she asked. “Is there institutional and structural racism that causes some to be treated less fairly than others because of the color of their skin or misunderstood cultural differences?”
Bob Zellner, a long-time national civil rights activist who is also a member of the Southampton task force, said that he believed that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s anti-immigrant policies have “lead the legislature, police and citizens to a place where victims are afraid to report crimes and police are afraid to call a hate crime a hate crime.”
“The silence of undocumented immigrants is the catastrophic silence of people taught by legislative harassment and relentless stereotyping to live mute and afraid,” he added.
Though members of the task force levelled much of their criticism at Mr. Levy for his characterization of Mr. Lucero’s murder as “a one-day” news story, they remained optimistic that the town’s interaction with the county’s bias crimes unit would help properly diagnose hate crimes here.
“Success is reducing the level of hatred and saving lives,” said Ms. Rulnick.
Mr. Ware added that there has never been a hate crime in Southampton Town recorded in the national registry of hate crimes, despite numerous racial incidents that have occurred here.
“We pay taxes to Suffolk County and it has a Hate Crimes Unit,” he said.