Why Would Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy Want To Cover Up Hate Crimes?

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The recent accusations that the Levy administration interfered with the operations of the Suffolk County Police Hate Crime Unit should come as no surprise to those who saw how the administration hindered the work of the county’s Hate Crime Task Force. The task force was hamstrung every step of the way by the county executive’s office, whose own e-mails – published on the New York State Immigrant Action Fund website – revealed that it was opposed to the task force even holding public hearings.

As a result, those two institutions, both charged with protecting minorities, haven’t been able to adequately do their job. That leaves immigrants more vulnerable to abuse and attack.

Unfortunately, during Steve Levy’s time in office, sanitizing hate crime news and statistics has gotten more attention than the prevention and investigation of bias crimes.

Want proof? In the days after Marcelo Lucero was killed, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said on numerous occasions that the county only had one anti-Latino hate crime in the 10 months before the killing. Even as he fed the media that line, however, his own cops were investigating the involvement of Conroy and company in nearly a dozen hate attacks during the same 10-month period.

Now Reecks, whatever his motivations may be, is making the administration’s machinations public. In a Newsday article, the former head of the hate crimes unit said that soon after Levy campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform in 2004, he came into office and his people tried to relegate hate crimes to the shadows. “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 alleged that after a certain point in time, all media advisories from the hate crimes unit had to be routed through the county executive’s office, a set-up that Levy’s office more or less confirmed in a press release this week. According to Reecks, Levy’s people would sometimes cleanse the releases of language related to potential hate crimes.

Hate crimes enforcement for the Levy administration has never been primarily about assuring the safety of the immigrant community – that should be clear from these allegations and the numerous unreported attacks that came to light in a 2009 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Instead, it appears that Levy was more intent on downgrading potential race crimes to mere incidents between neighbors, incidents that could pass unnoticed by the press.

Why would Levy want to whitewash hate crimes?

Certainly not to calm down Suffolk Latinos, many of whom knew in 2008 that violence against their community was becoming a regular part of county life. The audience was Suffolk’s native-born population, who were effectively told they could have racial peace and harmony while still engaging in harsh anti-immigrant politics.

The message? Suffolk voters could hate safely.

For advocates on Long Island, this isn’t a sudden revelation. The Long Island Immigrant Alliance and Long Island Wins told Suffolk politicians in the days after Marcelo Lucero’s killing. We said that the precipitous drop in anti-Latino incidents reported immediately after Levy took office did not reflect a sudden cooling in bias against Latinos or in reports of harassment in the community. It was, instead, founded on the political needs of the Levy team.

Concern over manipulation of hate-crime reports was part of the reason that the legislature authorized the creation of the Hate Crimes Task Force. Unfortunately, the leadership of the legislature then allowed Levy to stall and undermine the task force. Levy’s interception of the task force’s report before the task force members themselves saw it in December was just one more chapter in his unconscionable behavior on this issue both before and after the Lucero killing.

Image courtesy of the Long Island Business News via Flickr.


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