“Deputized” is the best documentary on the murder of Marcelo Lucero. But it is so much more than just an analysis of a 2008 hate crime.
It is a look into the heart of darkness – a suburban community torn apart by politicians willing to use the fear of immigrants for electoral advantage. Deputized looks at the cultivation of hatred by Suffolk County’s highest elected officials and the ways in which it was absorbed into the youth culture of one of New York State’s largest counties.
In 2008, Marcelo Lucero was killed by seven young men during the same week in which America elected its first non-white president. Over the next six months, another half a dozen Latinos were murdered in anti-immigrant attacks. While Marcelo’s tragedy occurred in Patchogue, it took place in the context of a wider, often violent resistance to the demographic changes creating the modern America we live in.
Marcelo’s death was one of many, but it was unique. The young men who took Marcelo’s life had been attacking Latinos for months. Marcelo was killed because he resisted the attack – he fought back, and as a result he was stabbed and left to die.
Marcelo’s death was also unique in the way any death is, in that he was an individual, not just a statistic. He had a life, a family, and he was loved. The film brings across the love that Marcelo’s family had for him.
Marcelo’s brother, sister and mother speak for his ghost. Marcelo’s brother, Joselo, explains the debt of gratitude the family felt for the man who at the age of seven, took it upon himself to step into his dead father’s shoes and who nurtured his younger siblings into adulthood. Marcelo’s family and friends tell the story of his life, one of self-less devotion to those he loved. But this is not the only story it tells.
“Deputized” is the fourth documentary devoted to the Marcelo Lucero murder. There has also been a play, entitled “What Killed Marcelo Lucero,” and an episode of Law and Order based on the case. If this film was just an incremental improvement on previous efforts, it would not have been worth making. Rather, it is the first movie I have seen that honestly portrays the interplay of racism, fear and politics in the deputization of young men as killers in the service of a community’s values.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy was not the only politician in the country who sought to ride the anti-immigrant wave to high office. Governors, Congressmen, and state legislators from Arizona to Alabama to Indiana have taken to calling immigrants “alien invaders” and “potential terrorists.” The film shows how the political class and the media contribute to the sentiment of hatred in communities and then disclaim responsibility when the bodies begin to fall.
The film has drawn some criticism for the time it devotes to the young man convicted of killing Marcelo. Killer Jeff Conroy’s father is interviewed at his home, speaking of his son with the same affectionate regret that many parents feel when a beloved child does something terribly wrong.
Bob Conroy assigns a share in the death to an ambulance crew that went astray. Frankly this is a red herring. Jeff Conroy, when he plunged the knife into his victim, never thought “I hope Marcelo gets the best medical care.”
Bob Conroy’s other statements are the sorts of things we expect to hear from the family of a convicted killer, but they are largely unsupported by the facts. His delusions, which assign blame for his son’s behavior to the police, the ambulance corps, and the media, are the self-justifications of a man who should have known that his high school son had been regularly coming home late at night, partially intoxicated, after having beaten immigrants in brutal, calculated attacks..
The film does humanize the attackers, because they are humans. Steve Levy, who had spent the previous decade dehumanizing immigrants, tried to take away the humanity of the seven young men when he felt the blowback from the consequences of his hateful policies. He characterized the young men as white supremacists standing outside the Suffolk norm. A close examination of their beliefs demonstrate that far from being outside the mainstream, they were expressing the point of view they heard every day on the nightly news in Suffolk. It took a village to raise these young men and it took a village to send them out to commit a hate crime.
It is difficult for me to review this film. I lived with this murder from the day Marcelo Lucero died. I worked with dozens of other Long Islanders who insisted on justice and change. I appear briefly in the film, and relatives of the film makers have funded my work. For some objectivity, I saw the final version of the film with two younger friends who came to Long Island after the killing and who knew the story only through news reports. I wanted to know their reaction.
My friends told me that while they knew most of the details of the 2008 killing, there were layers of meaning uncovered by Deputized that they were unaware of. Both of them were from other parts of the country and said that the film was not just about a single incident but about the way the politics of immigration is exploited by anti-immigrant politicians without regard for the deadly danger that it placed Latinos in.
They told me that the interviews with people in the Patchogue area were shocking because of the widespread racism expressed, the tolerance of violence, and the ways in which the adults in the community socialized the young into being hate criminals. This is a process that goes on every day in all parts of America. It is still going on all around us.
Deputized is a well-paced film that deals fairly and completely with one of the most important issues facing our country today. At the end, you will wish it had been longer, it is that engaging.
Steve Levy once infamously said that Marcelo’s death was a one-day story. He was wrong. It was not even a one movie story. Nonetheless, it is a story well-told in “Deputized.”