The cherry blossoms had just popped open on Main Street in Patchogue yesterday afternoon before Donald Trump came to town to attend a Suffolk County Republican fundraiser, a couple blocks up Railroad Avenue from where Equadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered in a hate crime seven years ago.
The entire village was filled with canyons of crowd control fencing and police barricades, along with Suffolk County Police officers, including many from the Community Response Bureau.
As a journalist, you watch elections and you keep your mouth shut and listen to what people have to say. It’s what we’re trained to do and it becomes ingrained very quickly in how we go about our daily lives. But it can deaden our humanity too.
The Suffolk County Republicans say they invited all of the Republican candidates for president to their fundraiser, not just the one candidate who has been openly jeering at not only immigrants, but also less-than-gorgeous women and reporters with muscular disorders and tough questions.
Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has, in the media, accused immigration advocates of co-opting Marcelo Lucero’s death for their rallies against Donald Trump’s visit to Patchogue.
It seems a lot of us have forgotten that the Suffolk County Police Department’s actions on Mr. Levy’s watch played a big role in creating the tensions over immigration in this county.
“The sad fact is that this is meant to cause violence,” said my friend Minerva Perez, the new Executive Director of Organizacion Latino-Americana, on Facebook today. “To be on the same street where an immigrant was hunted and stabbed to death by racist teens, is not the place to hold your fundraiser, Mr. Trump.”
Marcelo Lucero’s brother, Joselo Lucero, organized one of the biggest rallies Thursday, on the site where his brother was murdered. He has nothing to gain by “co-opting” his brother’s death.
“This is a terrible day,” he told the crowd of several hundred who gathered around the site with candles held high. “This is not a reality show. This is real.. My brother was murdered here.”
“The past seven years, I’ve tried to build bridges between my community and the local people,” he added. “Donald Trump is using hate speech and power to humiliate women. Why do we allow him to do that? You don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to be tall. You just have to be brave… I’m staying here to say to everybody this is wrong.”
When I got to Patchogue Thursday afternoon, the town was already pretty well barricaded with walls of police officers and barriers. I didn’t read the bulletins on how the crowd control was going to be set up. I figured I’d set loose on Main Street, like a rat in a maze, and find my way through town.
Rev. Dwight Wolter of the Patchogue Congregational Church was just beginning a vigil outside his church, where Marcelo Lucero’s funeral was held.
Vendors with little carts — the type of entrepreneurs who have made America great — were selling Trump t-shirts, Halloween masks, pins and hats, all up and down Main Street. I walked a block over to Railroad Avenue where I encountered my first police barricade.
People were walking through, so I tried to walk through too. A man with a clipboard stopped me.
“Can I see your ticket?” he asked.
“I don’t think I need a ticket,” I said. “I’m with the press.”
“If you want to see Donald Trump, you’re going to need some kind of ID,” he said.
This was baffling. See, the only presidential campaigns I’ve covered outside of Washington, DC (where you see politicians so frequently it’s just boring) were in The Hamptons, and when you’re covering presidential campaigns in The Hamptons, you don’t really ever get to see the candidate.
I once waited on the tarmac at Gabreski Airport with Bill Sutton from the Press News Group and a stringer from The Daily News for three hours to take a photo of John Kerry walking down the stairs from the airplane to a waiting car. It was the most boring experience of my career.
But with this idea that a ticket will buy you a chance to see Trump, well, wow, I realized, I must really be in the real great America, not the feudal neverland of The Hamptons. The only problem was, I didn’t want to see Trump.
“I don’t want to see Trump,” I said. “I want to walk to the other end of this public street and see Marcelo Lucero’s brother.”
“That’s the next block over,” the guy said, backing off.
It turns out, the next block over, I ran into anti-immigrant protester Tom Wedell, who was carrying his sign that reads in big red letters “WHEN THEY JUMPED THE FENCE, THEY BROKE THE LAW.”
Mr. Wedell has been standing with that sign in front of the Southampton 7-Eleven for nearly a decade.
“They let you out of Southampton, Tom?” I yelled as I grabbed his photograph. “It’s a great country, eh?”
He grinned and waved.
As I was backing up to take the photo, I heard a couple people walking to the candlelight vigil mumble something about how they’d like to push me into the oncoming traffic. I realized there was no way to turn the fence I was walking along into a bridge, and I picked a side and headed for the vigil.
North Fork singer-songwriter Robert Bruey was just beginning to sing a new original song about Mr. Lucero’s death: “Perdoname Hermano,” Spanish for Pardon Me, Brother.
Mr. Bruey’s song was selected for the soundtrack to “Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness,” a PBS documentary about the aftermath of Mr. Lucero’s death.
It turns out that this part of town was filled with people from the East End.
Mick Hargreaves, a musician, songwriter and producer who’s worked with just about everyone out here, had a very personal reason for being at the vigil. He’d been severely beaten in a parking lot after a gig on the South Shore several years ago.
“Everyone was there for me,” he said as he squinted into the late-day sun, wearing a mechanic’s shirt, a Bernie Sanders pin and an Innersleeve Records hat. He was carrying a white ripped piece of butcher paper with a blue heart painted on it. “It really is that simple.”
Sister Mary Beth Moore of Centro Corazon de Maria in Hampton Bays, Sister Margaret Smyth of of the North Fork Hispanic Apostolate and Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force co-chair Dianne Rulnick were gathered to hear the speakers, many of whom were members of the clergy.
“This is terrible,” said Ms. Rulnick. “A hate crime occurred here. The hatred in this election is devastating and disgraceful.”
Father Francis Pizzarelli of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson was wearing sandals and he reminded everyone present that a martyr had died there, and the site was hallowed ground. He said that Pope Francis has said that peace is not just the absence of war, but also the absence of social indifference.
“America is great because of our diversity,” he said. “Let that message ring out to all people across the country.”
Rev. Margie Allen of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook and members of her congregation held up a big banner for the church’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign and asked everyone there to stand in a circle and hold hands. But they were already standing in a circle.
“Standing on the side of love is not a line,” she said. “It’s a circle. It’s not us and them. It’s us and us.”
I walked back up Railroad Avenue through a cavern of crowd barricades with no one but smiling officers in blue between the barricades. They seemed happy that the crowd numbered in the thousands and not the tens of thousands. The police had actually done a great job making it very difficult to get from one protest site to another — building walls to make it easy for people to stay near like-minded people.
One woman at the vigil explained it to me like this: “This is where all the peace and love people are. If you want to yell at Trump, you go to the other end of this street. If you want to yell at Trump supporters and get yelled at, you go over to Ocean Avenue and then back down Main Street.
So, I packed up my camera and headed around the block and up to Main Street. When I got back to Railroad Avenue, where I’d been grilled by the man with the clipboard, the barricades were now a line of police officers. I asked one officer if it was ok to cross the street.
“Just be careful down there,” she said.
I bit my lip. Did a police officer just warn me that I was about to walk into danger? I shrugged and dove into a sea of men in leather jackets and tank tops and women holding up signs saying they wanted Trump to help them find better jobs.
Across the street were a crowd of anti-Trump protesters carrying signs with blue hearts like the one Mick Hargreaves had. The Blue Heart people kept sneaking into Trump territory to photobomb the sea of television cameras.
“They’re stupid! Go Bernie!,” one Trump supporter jeered, then a group began to sing a mocking rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”
One women offered to sell me a pink Trump t-shirt. She was very nice, but I had a headache. I split the whole scene and headed over to Peg Koller’s yoga studio, Yoga Yama, on North Ocean Avenue.
Inside was an oasis. Peg and her yoga colleagues were deep inside a Naam yoga chant. They were in a place, somewhere deep inside, where the only echo of the political world outside was the Suffolk County Police helicopter that spent the day circling overhead.
One woman I spoke with yesterday said that a Trump supporter had walked up to her on the street and asked her if she was an immigrant.
By instinct, she turned to him, shot up her middle finger and shouted the expletive that is usually associated with that gesture.
She felt pretty bad about buying in to being goaded.
I told her I didn’t think there was anything wrong with what she did. After all, she was simply expressing her New York values.
We’ll be hearing a lot about “New York” values from the people running for president between now and next Tuesday. But the truth is that those values aren’t owned by any political party. They’re about standing up for individual dignity, no matter what circle you scribble in in the privacy of your polling place.