Newsday Columnist Says Suffolk Hate Crimes Task Force Deserves Time To Draft a Report

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At a January press conference, Legis. DuWayne Gregory accused the Suffolk County executive of tampering with a hate crime report.

Last week, Long Island Wins issued a series of five editorials looking critically at the work of the Suffolk County Hate Crimes Task Force, a body created by the Suffolk legislature to investigate such crimes in the county.

Today, Newsday columnist Joye Brown picked up the story, saying that the task force deserved more time to complete its work. Brown, who recently published an exclusive interview with the former head of the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crimes Unit, said that the controversy around the group’s work thus far and the importance of the report merited an extension of its research deadline.

From the column:

Just because Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s office could grab a draft report of the county’s Hate Crimes Task Force doesn’t mean that it should have. That’s why the task force is right to seek legislative approval for an extension until July to complete its report and recommendations.

And why Legis. DuWayne Gregory, the task force chairman, also is seeking an outside agency to redo work done by a county group that – unbeknownst to task force members – forwarded the draft to Levy’s office.

Gregory (D-Amityville), said he had asked the Southern Poverty Law Center to do the job. But the center, citing its own report – which labeled Levy “Enabler in Chief” because of his comments and actions, including an unsuccessful move to have Suffolk police enforce immigration laws – turned him down.

Now the task force is going back to private and university-based groups that had volunteered to help in the first place, Gregory said. He declined to say who they were, although he did say he was looking for a group that would do it at no charge to the county.

Brown stresses the need for the task force to hire an independent organization to compile its report—a point emphasized in the Long Island Wins series of editorials.

Ed Dumas, Levy’s chief deputy county executive, said Monday that he had reviewed the portions of the report dealing with the police department because he wanted to ensure that it was factual and included mention of the substantive changes made after the death of Marcelo Lucero. The Ecuadorean immigrant’s fatal stabbing in November 2008 was classified as a hate crime.

Dumas said he made no changes, other than asking the council to add a table of contents. He said the report came to Levy’s office because the 30-year-old council is part of the county probation department, which reports to Levy. He said Levy’s office gets every report produced by the council.

But that doesn’t mean it should have reviewed this one. The task force is supposed to be independent. And Levy – right or wrong – has borne the brunt of criticism for the lack of tolerance of illegal immigrants during the early years of his tenure.

Levy’s office reviewing the draft report creates the appearance of interference – even if, as Dumas said, none was intended.

That makes a new review of the material necessary so the task force can regain some semblance of independence before members finish the report by adding its most important element – recommendations on what Suffolk should be doing to fight hate crimes.

Meanwhile, Gregory and the task force have to be thoughtful in selecting a new group to analyze testimony and exhibits.

The task force cannot afford even the appearance of a second compromised analysis. The group’s work is too important, too essential for that.

To read the full column, click here.


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