FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 14, 2011
Long Island Leaders Call for the Justice Department To Expand Investigation To Focus on Government Interference
Recent infighting between Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and his former hate crimes commander proves that Suffolk can’t police hate crimes.
Central Islip, NY – A coalition of local and national immigration leaders, including an official with the Southern Poverty Law Center, met with attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division today to ask the division to expand an ongoing federal investigation into discriminatory policing to determine how infighting between Suffolk officials hampered the ability of the Suffolk County Police Department to appropriately handle hate crimes.
While a wave of hate crime spread across eastern Long Island in recent years, chaos apparently reigned within Suffolk’s hate crimes unit. In January, the former longtime commander of the unit charged that County Executive Steve Levy systematically interfered with hate crime investigations. Speaking with Newsday, Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks said that Levy whitewashed bias crimes and directly inhibited his work:
“They came in and they started to shut it down … all of a sudden it was, no, you are not doing that, no, that is not a hate crime,” Reecks said.
Reecks also said that the Levy administration eventually routed all hate crimes communications through the county executive’s office, where they were often sanitized of language related to such crimes. By hiding hate crime information from the public, Reecks said, Levy made it difficult for the unit to procure leads.
Levy responded with a press release attacking Reecks, who had been removed from his position a few weeks earlier, saying that Reecks’ statements were “replete with falsehoods and devoid of numerous crucial facts.”
“Regardless of who is telling the truth, this episode shows clearly that Suffolk County’s handling of hate crimes is completely dysfunctional and must be overhauled to put a stop to the wave of hate violence we’ve seen over the past several years,” said Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, the director of Long Island Wins.
For nearly a decade, hate crimes haven’t been taken seriously in Suffolk County.
The extent of the problem was documented in “Climate of Fear: Latino Immigrants in Suffolk County, N.Y.,” a 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that documented widespread violence against Latinos and cited the indifference of local authorities. The report told the stories of immigrants who had been run off the road, shot with BB guns, and attacked with baseball bats. It singled out Levy as the “enabler-in-chief” for employing rhetoric and supporting policies against immigrants.
In response to the disorder within the Suffolk hate crimes unit, the coalition asked the Justice Department to closely examine the functioning of the unit, specifically at its highest levels of leadership.
Among those in attendance at today’s meeting were: Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, Long Island Wins; Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center; Henry Fernandez, Center for America Progress; Luis Valenzuela, Long Island Immigrant Alliance; Anthony Miranda, National Latino Officers Association of America; Joselo Lucero, community educator and brother of hate crime victim Marcelo Lucero; Christina Baal, New York Immigration Coalition; Rev. Allan Ramirez, Brookville Reformed Church; Omar Angel Perez, The Workplace Project; Cheryl Keshner, Empire Justice Center; Greg Maney, Hofstra University professor; and Patrick Young, Esq., CARECEN.
The coalition presented Justice Department attorneys with five recommendations to help the county combat hate crime, including the establishment of a statistical tracking system to monitor how police respond to crime victims of different races and ethnicities. The recommendations were developed in conjunction with the Long Island Immigrant Alliance.
Recommendations To Aid the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in the Department’s Investigation Into Discriminatory Policing in Suffolk County
Drafted in conjunction with the Long Island Immigrant Alliance
1. Commission an independent body to monitor whether the police department follows hate crimes guidelines endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
2. Implement a system to publicly monitor how police respond to crime victims of different races and ethnicities by tracking crimes reported, charges brought, and convictions obtained.
3. Partner with advocacy groups for monitoring, reporting, and responding to hate crime, as well as for public education on hate crime.
4. Ensure meaningful access to the Suffolk County Police Department for all Long Island residents, including those with limited English proficiency; and, more specifically, aspire to add language skills as a professional requirement for a percentage of police officers.
5. Extend the existing police confidentiality policy to encompass non-criminals who voluntarily or inadvertently disclose their immigration status.
Long Island Wins is a non-profit organization that works to promote immigration solutions that work for everyone, rooted in respect and dignity for all. We provide honest research on public policy issues, share insight into the local and national immigration debates, work to give Long Islanders the tools to affect that debate, and encourage all Long Islanders of goodwill to work towards recognizing how strengthening immigrants’ contributions to Long Island can benefit us all.