DOJ Probes 'Discriminatory Policing' in NY

Hate Crimes

The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has begun an investigation into allegations of "discriminatory policing" in the Suffolk County, N.Y., police department's treatment of crimes reported against Latinos.

The investigation, announced Oct. 5, will be conducted by the Justice Department's civil rights division and the local U.S. attorney's office. It comes about nine months after the agencies began looking into a complaint that the Suffolk police force failed to adequately investigate crimes against Latinos and discouraged victims from seeking assistance. The complaint was filed shortly after the November 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant fatally stabbed in the town of Patchogue.

The announcement also follows by one month the release of a Southern Poverty Law Center Report, "Climate of Fear: Latino Immigrants in Suffolk County, N.Y.," which examined a decade of violence and abuse directed at Latino immigrants in the county that occupies the eastern portion of Long Island.

In a statement, DOJ spokesman Alejandro Miyar said the investigation "will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by members of the SCPD."

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer told The New York Times that he welcomed the federal inquiry. It "gives us a chance to dispel the myths that we didn't investigate thoroughly and completely any complaints that have come to our attention."

Dormer acknowledged that his force may have missed a pattern of racially motivated crime against Latinos in recent years, but said that was because some crimes were apparently not reported to the police.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Manhattan-based national advocacy group that filed the initial complaint, cheered the news of the investigation. "Hopefully they can find out what's gone wrong and determine why there seems to be a failure by police … and Latinos will be able to walk the streets again with confidence that the police are treating them fairly," Foster Maer, a senior staff attorney for the organization, told Newsday.

Elsewhere in the country, however, sometimes shocking hate crime violence targeting Latino immigrants continued. A sampling:

In Lynn, Mass., a city 10 miles northeast of Boston, six boys aged 11 to 14 were charged in September with severely beating a Guatemalan immigrant with bricks, bottles and rocks as he slept near railroad tracks. The victim, 30-year-old Damian Merida, was hospitalized for a month with head injuries. His brother said the attack caused permanent brain damage.

Police said the boys targeted Merida because of his ethnicity. Human rights activists reported that several other Guatemalan immigrants were attacked around the same time in Lynn, but didn't report the beatings to police because they're undocumented. A police spokesman said investigators were looking into "the possibility that the attack was not the first perpetrated by these youths."

In mid-June, three men in Staten Island, N.Y., beat a Latino immigrant with a baseball bat, splitting his head open.

In Huntington Beach, Calif., four white supremacist gang members were indicted in September for attempted murder after they allegedly stabbed, punched and kicked a Mexican immigrant in a predominantly Latino neighborhood where, according to prosecutors, they went hunting for a "non-white" on July 3.

The day after the Huntington Beach attack, a 45-year-old Latina working as a custodian in a gated community in Ladera Ranch, Calif., reported to police that she was stabbed and robbed by two men who yelled racial epithets.

"They told me I wasn't worth anything," Maria Guadarrama told The Orange County Register. "They said they didn't like me and they didn't like Mexicans."

The attack occurred while Guadarrama was emptying trash outside the gated community's clubhouse. One of the men reportedly had a swastika tattooed on his shoulder.