NEW YORK, NY — With the New York primary less than a week away, the presidential candidates of both parties are crisscrossing the Empire State, hoping to make last-minute connections with voters. Thursday night will find one candidate at a party fundraiser in Patchogue, New York, a town on Long Island about 60 miles from Manhattan. This is a controversial event that has already generated negative publicity, threats of violence and unflattering headlines. But what could be wrong with yet another party fundraiser?
When the candidate is Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, the answer is: Everything.
Back in 2008, Patchogue was the site of a horrific hate crime against an Ecuadorian dry cleaning worker. Marcelo Lucero, 37, was attacked by seven teenagers who later testified that they were out to harass an immigrant that night.
Lucero was beaten, stabbed and left to die in the street.
At his trial, one of his attackers explained that this was part of a routine for them, which they called "beaner hopping." This was, he said, "when you go out to look for Hispanics to beat up."
This tragedy put Patchogue on the map, and unfortunately not in a good way. In the outcry following Lucero's death, other immigrants came forward with their own stories of being harassed and beaten in this Long Island town.
After reports surfaced of racial profiling and police abuse, the Department of Justice launched an civil rights investigation into the local police force and put the department under federal oversight.
Fast forward to 2016, when the chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party, John Jay LaValle, thought it would be a good idea to invite the most anti-immigrant candidate in modern history to Patchogue for a fundraising event. So tonight Donald Trump will be appearing at a nightclub that is about 200 yards from where Lucero was killed. This event represents the height of insensitivity — and is deeply disrespectful to both immigrants and the town of Patchogue.
Trump's appearance has rightfully drawn condemnation from national and local media, immigrants' rights groups and area residents. The New York Times editorial board called his appearance "a wretched development" and a "disgraceful provocation." Long Island's leading newspaper, Newsday, warned about Trump "stir(ring) up racial tensions." Everyone from Long Island's Episcopal Bishop to ordinary Patchogue residents have denounced Trump's visit.
Trump has a right to exercise his freedom of speech and there is certainly nothing illegal about his Patchogue appearance.
But just because something is not illegal does not mean that it is right.
How sad it is that Patchogue, which is about 30 percent Latino, once again has its name associated with xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. How offensive it is to bring the man who allegedly has incited other hate crimes to the place where Lucero was murdered in cold blood. And how disturbing it is that the Suffolk County GOP has refused to move or cancel the event. As one local resident told CNN, bringing Trump to Patchogue is "akin to inviting Osama bin Laden to speak at Ground Zero." Indeed.
In an op-ed in Newsday, Lucero's brother Joselo wrote that he actually did not fault Trump for attending tonight's event. He instead blamed LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican Chairman. "It's hard to understand what LaValle was thinking," Lucero wrote. "I don't know whether he considered the impact on the immigrant community and the people of Patchogue. I'm not sure which is worse: that he didn't even think about it, or that he considered the pain involved and decided to extend the invitation anyway."
Despite the question of who is to blame, Trump's appearance amounts to a disgrace.
This evening's fundraiser in Patchogue will likely be the scene of protests and counter-protests, with the attendant circus-like atmosphere that typically accompanies the Trump campaign.
Still, no amount of hoopla and hype can obscure the fact that this event dishonors the memory of the victim of a hate crime.
Donald Trump may be out to "Make America great again," but tonight's appearance is a sobering reminder that his campaign holds the potential to "Make America hate again" as well.