Donald Trump comes to the East End to speak at a Republican fundraiser on Thursday, April 14. You might think he’d hold it in the Hamptons, where all the money is. But Trump doesn’t need the money, as he is quick to tell you. He is more after the hearts and minds of his people. He speaks at the Emporium in Patchogue, a classic Long Island village with many fine attributes, but one with a long and persistent undercurrent of bigotry.
The Ku Klux Klan was active in Patchogue in the 1920s. The Suffolk County News on October 24, 1924 described a large Klan rally (of 3,000) near Baker’s Farm, North Ocean Avenue, where the parade route was lined with “the usual colored route lanterns.” Klan initiations, hate speeches, fiery crosses and even a Klan marriage followed.
On August 2, 1925, The New York Times headlined KLAN PARADES: ELKS CLEAR WAY FOR GOWNED MARCHERS.
In the 1930s, Nazi Party rallies took place at Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, only a few miles from Patchogue. The Nazis paraded through downtown Bay Shore and other places in 1936.
And these actions weren’t just against African-Americans or Jews back then. On April 27, 1924, The New York Times reported a speaker at a hall in Patchogue denouncing New York Governor Al Smith’s running for President. KU KLUX KLAN DECLARES AGAINST GOV. SMITH: SPEAKER SAYS 6,000,000 MEMBERS WILL OPPOSE ANY CATHOLIC FOR THE PRESIDENCY.
Here’s more recent Patchogue bigotry. In November 2014, during the Ferguson demonstrations in Missouri, police received a call from Patchogue to investigate plastic bags thrown out onto the street there and in Port Jefferson. Notes inside read, “Support Missouri Police for Taking Out Two N-gger Thugs Who are in Hell Were (sic) They Belong…White Power.”
And last Christmas Day, the Klan left fliers on the cars in the Brookhaven Hospital Parking Lot in East Patchogue.
Of course, Patchogue is today known around the country for one utterly horrendous murder.
On the night of November 8, 2008, a gang of seven white teenagers from Patchogue-Medford High School cornered laundry worker Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, in an alley near the railroad station in that town to attack him for no reason other than that he was a “Mexican.” He died of the stab wounds inflicted on him during the attack.
Turned out that through the 1990s and 2000s, boys from this high school regularly went out Saturday nights to beat up Latinos for cheap thrills. They called it “getting a Mexican.”
Steve Levy, the County Executive at that time, had grown up in Patchogue, so he knew from the local culture. His election came after the Patchogue Village Police merged into the Suffolk County Police Department. That made ignoring Patchogue bigotry easy. As a report later released by the Southern Poverty Law Center shockingly revealed, Latino residents said that police did not take their reports seriously, even blaming the victims themselves. Indeed, during those years, in a vain attempt to stop the teenage rampages, the local merchants on Main Street created a volunteer auxiliary police force that patrolled the street on Saturday nights, unarmed, ready to call in the county if necessary.
After Lucero was murdered, demonstrations took place in Patchogue by those horrified by the beatings and stabbings. The state investigated the county police. I reported these activities in Dan’s Papers at that time, and in return got a personal letter from Steve Levy’s public relations team attempting to convince me Levy was a good guy and had done this or that—for example, giving out DVDs on how not to be a bigot. But not much changed. And eventually, Levy left office under a cloud of “ethics” questions, whatever that was.
The violence in Patchogue was well documented. In August of 2009, three local teens were arrested for allegedly assaulting a Latino man. A month later, someone broke into the Iglesia Evangelica Refugio de Salvacion Church and left a note at the altar reading, in bad Spanish, that white people, not Latinos, “ruled here” in Patchogue.
Trump is speaking at the Emporium at the invitation of Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle (not to be confused with our State Senator Ken Lavalle). Afterward, one supposes, his supporters can walk out of the Emporium to the intersection at Railroad Avenue and Sephton Street, and over to the small area of chain link fence where a vigil is held every year to the memory of Marcelo Lucero, and tearfully place a rose.