Civil Rights Leaders Address Hate Crime Spike

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The brutal murder of Marcelo Lucero, a Long Island resident of Ecuadorian descent, brought seven national civil rights organizations together on Monday to denounce the recent wave of hate crimes against communities of color.

"In the wake of an election that sends a message to the world about freedom, it seems incongruous to raise the specter of hate in America," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) during the event in Washington, D.C. "Hate did not win the election, but it has certainly reared its head in local communities across the country."

Representatives from NCLR, the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), the National Urban League, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the NAACP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) decried the recent spike in hate crimes and called for the next administration to address what Mark H. Morial of the National Urban League described as a "pressing issue."

"We are here to unify when sending a message: that whenever we see hate issues, we won't remain silent," Morial said.

The murder of Marcelo Lucero is the latest on a list of immigrant attacks that has grown by 40 percent in the last four years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. At the event, civil rights leaders detailed different attacks, such as the one committed on election night against a Liberian-American teenager, assaulted by two other adolescents shouting racial epithets and "Obama" in Staten Island, New York.

Representatives of the seven organizations described their fear of a backlash in hate crimes after Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election. "This is a time of mixed emotions for a lot of folks; this is a very hopeful moment for our country. A lot of people are excited in the communities that we represent about the ascendancy of Barack Obama, but at the same time, some of us at the leadership of our communities are nervous that there might be a backlash," Murguia said.

Michael Lieberman, from the Washington Council of the Anti Defamation League, described the rise of hate groups whose Web sites were blocked by the amount of visits right after the election, as well as new recruitments by these groups and coalitions that have "positioned themselves as legitimate against illegal immigration in America."

Lieberman agreed with the rest of the leaders about what needs to be done next. Organization leaders mentioned that there's a need to remember that America is a nation of immigrants, to make progress in both asylum and immigration laws and that public officials must tone down the rhetoric in the immigration debate in the media.

When describing the influence of media coverage on immigration, Murguia mentioned a USA Today article last month that noted the recent resurgence of white supremacist groups was being "fueled by illegal immigration."

"We believe that the wave of hate unleashed by the polarized debate over immigration has led to the increase in violence and hate groups targeting Latinos. And the key players in this wave of hate are found among elected officials and the media, especially talk radio and cable news," said Murguia.

For Morial of the National Urban League, the response is "to challenge, to confront those people who use their elected positions and prominence in the news media to create an atmosphere that these crimes are somehow acceptable."

The civil rights leaders called for Congress to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said he was "pretty positive" that the next administration will include the immigration reform on the agenda and that this bill will be passed.

"For the vast majority of Americans, this election appeared to close the book on a long history of inequality in America. President-elect Obama's election speaks volumes about how far we've come as a nation, but make no mistake about it: it signifies hope, not the final victory over prejudice and racial hostility," Henderson said.

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