Donald Trump, the face of a resurgence in anti-immigrant vitriol, will headline a fundraiser this week just steps from where a Latino man was fatally stabbed in a brutal hate crime in 2008.
The Suffolk County Republicans invited Trump to Patchogue, a small coastal town in Long Island, where attendees will pay between $150 and $1,000 to hear the party front-runner speak. But local leaders are now calling on the county GOP to either replace Trump or call off the event entirely, fearing the fundraiser will stoke more fear in a community still recovering from a spate of hate-filled violence.
A gang of teens in the area once made a habit out of attacking Latino immigrants in a late-night sport they would often call “beaner hopping.” A series of attacks ultimately turned deadly in 2008 when the group fatally stabbed 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant.
The tragedy exposed a trend of mostly white youths who made a game out of terrorizing local Latinos. But the anti-immigrant sentiment was not isolated. Long Island has long grappled with such tension, and the Suffolk Police Department was accused of widespread racial profiling, prompting the Department of Justice to step in to provide additional oversight.
Many Latinos say the immigrant community has since struggled to recover, an effort made all the more difficult with Trump’s persistent anti-immigrant drumbeat on a national scale.
“It was devastating for the whole Latino community. It took a long time for people to recuperate from that,” said Eliana Fernandez, an organizer with the immigrant rights group Make the Road Action.
The local immigrant community plans to hold vigils and protests outside the venue of Trump’s event, which will be held just down the street from where Lucero was slain. His brother, Joselo Lucero, has spoken out against the event, calling Trump a “symbol of hate against my community,” raising the fear that the GOP front-runner’s presence may incite more hate.
“To have this kind of event is like a slap in the face for the whole community,” Fernandez said.
The New York Times editorial board condemned the Suffolk County Republicans for both inviting Trump and its choice of venue, calling the development a “disgraceful provocation” that threatens to reopen old wounds.
Asked whether the decision to invite Trump was appropriate, county GOP chairman John Jay LaValle on Tuesday defended the move and said the party was proud to host Trump.
“The reality is, this is about free speech,” LaValle said on MSNBC. “This is about America. This is the leading Republican presidential candidate, probably the next President of the United States, coming to our community, to speak to our community, to speak to our voters.”