It takes about three minutes to walk from the lowbrow Emporium nightclub where Donald Trump is being feted at a Republican fundraiser on Thursday night to the unmarked spot on the sidewalk in Patchogue where Marcelo Lucero died after being attacked by a pack of white teenagers in 2008, just days after Barack Obama became America’s first black president.
Lucero, 37, who worked at a local dry cleaner, was set upon by seven youths engaged in “hunting Latinos” and his killing was prosecuted as a hate crime.
“There are dozens and dozens of venues in this county where the local Republican party could hold this event and they have chosen the very road that is stained with Marcelo’s blood,” said Allan Ramirez, a retired local pastor and community organizer, standing next to the fence where Lucero had collapsed as he tried to get away from his attackers.
Ramirez said he had been “shattered” by the homicide at the time and had struggled to comfort Lucero’s family and the large local Ecuadorian community that had complained of years of slurs and violence in the town.
“Donald Trump has the right to speak, he just doesn’t have the right to spew the kind of hatred and rhetoric he has been promoting and which was going around at the time and led to Marcelo’s death. This presidential election is not a reality show,” he said.
He and other community organizers are planning a rally, a vigil, a church service and a “Make America Love Again” march in Patchogue on Thursday to protest against the Trump event.
The local Suffolk County GOP has so far staunchly refused to bend to requests from community groups to cancel the fundraiser, defending it simply as free speech.
The Emporium holds about 1,000 people. Local police were conducting security checks on the roof on Wednesday and uninvited visitors were rapidly ushered out from the dim interior by tight-lipped staff, because “the secret service are doing their sweep-through right now”.
Standing outside the Emporium at a rally to cancel the event on Wednesday, Patrick Young, a professor of immigration at Long Island’s Hofstra University, pointed down Railroad Avenue.
“I think every Republican around here knows very well that this is the road where Marcelo was killed. Holding this fundraiser here is a finger in the eye of the Latino community. I mean, the Emporium is even kind of a dumpy place,” he said.
“Before Marcelo was killed, if you reported a hate crime in Patchogue the cops would ask you what country you were from,” he added. “They would not even file a report on the hate crime, but they would notify immigration about you. Between 2000 and 2010, hundreds of people from around here were deported.”
Many would not report racist attacks as a result, which helped fuel an atmosphere of xenophobia that escalated into groups chanting “out of here” on Patchogue street corners and physically attacking Latinos at night, with a high degree of impunity, Young said.
There have been many changes at the police department since then and some very publicly racist politicians have left office, he said, though some problems remain.
“There are thousands of Trump supporters on Long Island and they believed in what they believed in way before Trump was running for office, where immigrants can be blamed for anything – even though there is low unemployment here,” he said.
Marcelo Lucero’s younger brother Joselo Lucero, who has led the lobbying effort for the local GOP to cancel the event, said his family had never recovered from the death of his brother.
His mother had remained in the family’s small home village in Ecuador when three of her four children had set out for the US as teenagers to seek a better future and ended up in Patchogue, where they knew other Ecuadorian émigrés.
“Not long after Marcelo’s death she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” said Joselo Lucero.
His father had died when he was six and his mother died in October 2015. The only time in her life she had ever been to the US was to attend the trial of Marcelo’s attackers.
In 2010, the group of local 18- and 19-year-olds who came to be known as the Patchogue Seven, were sentenced after a trial in which the bleak details of years of local divisions between white Long Islanders and the growing Ecuadorian community were laid bare.
Six of them were sentenced to between five and seven years on charges including gang assault, attempted assault as a hate crime and conspiracy.
Jeremy Conroy, 19, who actually stabbed Marcelo Lucero with a folding knife, was sentenced to 25 years for manslaughter as a hate crime.
When a police officer came to Joselo Lucero’s door the morning after his older brother had died, Lucero said he was so shocked he felt as though time stopped.
“I didn’t even feel pain I was so … I … I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
As a welder with limited knowledge of English, he decided to take the role of defending his brother and fellow immigrants, and had to learn very quickly how to speak in public and decipher the legal language of the court case.
“I also had to phone my mother and tell her that her son had been killed, and why,” he said.
Joselo continued to send his welder’s wages back to his mother to support her and treat her illness, until he flew back to Ecuador last fall to see her before she died.
He is now the outreach coordinator for the Hagedorn Foundation, a Long Island fund promoting social equity.
The family filed several lawsuits against two local towns and the county police, but none was successful.
The Suffolk County police came under federal investigation and supervision from the Department of Justice after Marcelo Lucero’s death, following widespread reports that the police ignored hate crimes in the area.
Accounts of Marcelo Lucero’s death often include a line that his screams for help went unheeded.
But at the house on whose fence he collapsed, an Ecuadorian immigrant, Doris Loja, 24, opened the door on Wednesday afternoon.
She is a manager at a local group home for youth with disabilities and was preparing to head out to work the evening hours.
She remembers Marcelo’s death right outside.
“It was kind of weird that we didn’t hear anything. I was here with my mom and dad at the time and we were watching a movie. We didn’t know anything had happened until my mom saw blue lights outside and it was the ambulance and they were carrying the guy into it,” she said.
“My mom was, like, ‘Oh no, I probably know him,’ because everyone knows each other,” she added.
She pointed to a bar across the nearby railroad tracks and up the street to where more bars are located.
“When you would hear shouts at night, anyway, people just think it’s the local boys heading from bar to bar, goofing around, so you wouldn’t necessarily know there was an attack happening,” she said.
She recalls her father helping to wash Marcelo’s blood from the street, the sidewalk and the fence.
“What’s crazy is that I knew the boys who did it, at least by sight at school, and I had no idea they were doing stuff like that. When I heard the next day that they would hunt Latinos, I was, like – wait, that’s a thing? Those guys?”
She believes she has avoided a lot of racism herself because she picked up English very quickly after arriving from Ecuador at 15 and speaks without an accent.
“But my father speaks broken English and my mother doesn’t really speak English, and some people roll their eyes when they speak to them and mutter ‘Mexicans’. Patchogue can definitely be racist. It’s stupid really. They talk about us ‘taking their jobs’, but my father worked in a restaurant kitchen for years, my mother works in a cosmetics factory and is on her feet 24/7 – I’m sure if those folks wanted those jobs, they’d only have to apply and they can have one,” she said.
She goes to the gym at 5am and sees some of her fellow Ecuadorians who got up at 4am waiting for a ride to go to construction jobs in Manhattan.
“It’s not like we want to be millionaires, we just want to work hard and support our families,” she said.