This letter has been submitted by Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of the .
It has been nearly three years since an undocumented Latino, Marcelo Lucero, was attacked by seven teenagers and killed on a street in Patchogue simply because of the color of his skin.
On September 14 at 7 p.m., a screening of a documentary film about Patchogue, Light in the Darkness, will be shown at the . The documentary will then be broadcast nationally on PBS on September 21.
The film depicts many sincere efforts at healing a troubled and divided community. Unfortunately, little effort has been made, in the community or the film, to present the voices of those from “the other side” of the divide. The families and friends of the seven assailants, for example, were not interviewed for this film.
Recently, Joselo Lucero, the Mayor, other elected officials, a librarian, Latino advocates, myself and others were invited to preview this film ~ but the families of the convicted teenagers were not. One parent’s request to attend was denied. While it is predictable, in the aftermath of a hate crime killing, that people will take sides ~ all sides need to be included in attempts at healing if we are to minimize the prospect of such a tragedy happening again.
Before Jeff Conroy was given the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, 100 letters supporting Lucero and 100 letters supporting Conroy were received by the court. It is easy to dismiss letters written in support of a teenager with a swastika tattooed on his thigh who was convicted of a hate crime killing. But it is unwise to ignore that letters written in support of Lucero and Conroy were evenly divided. Healing cannot happen until the writers of all 200 letters of support for the slayer and support for the slain are acknowledged and heard.
The film simplistically paints a portrait of a community filled only with heroes who love and villains who hate. But people who abhor hate crimes may still be upset about access to publicly-sponsored health care by undocumented immigrants, over-crowding in the public schools, and housing code violations.
Many people are now afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled “racist”. Silence should not be mistaken for peace. When an announcement of the upcoming screening was posted on a Patchogue Village website, the inbox was inundated with angry comments. These voices also should not be silenced or ignored in a rush to put the past behind us. One-half of a community cannot heal.
All seven of the teenage assailants are now in prison. The film shows, Joselo Lucero, Marcelo’s brother, at a press conference offering condolences to the Conroy family, saying, “I really feel sorry for them.” But shortly thereafter the Lucero estate filed suit against all the parents of the teens, who were tried as adults, for the behavior of their children. The Lucero estate is also suing the Village of Patchogue for $40 million. As these cases snake their way through the courts, strong feelings will emerge once again. And these voices also should not be silenced or ignored.
Some fear that this film may “open old wounds.” But that implies the wounds were healed to begin with. There is much evidence to the contrary. The Executive Producer recently offered to meet with the families of the seven teenagers for an hour at an undisclosed location and to set up a monitor so they can watch the film simultaneously with the gathering at the Patchogue Theatre. This gesture, like the film itself, is a step in the right direction. But they deserve a private screening that was afforded to others so that they may feel a part of ~ not apart from ~ the healing process that cannot be complete without them, and which they need as much as anyone else. Let us continue to reach out to each other, seeking reconciliation. And may we become a powerful example of a community transformed by tragedy into a place of peace, justice, and unity.
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, where the funeral of Marcelo Lucero was held and over which he presided. He has also remained in contact with several of the incarcerated teenagers and their families.