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Don't tolerate intolerance

| April 25, 2010 9:00 PM

Right there in the figurative shadow of the Statue of Liberty, racism stands tall.

Not just the ethnic joke variety, either. Demeaning. Violent. And escalating.

Earlier this week, a 19-year-old white Long Island, N.Y., man was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime in the stabbing death of a 37-year-old native of Ecuador. The killer was part of a group of seven friends who targeted Latinos for assault - a "sport" they called "beaner-hopping."

This malicious pack of thugs isn't alone in its racist sweeps of the Long Island area. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently concluded four months of research there that included interviews with more than 70 Latino immigrants, 30 local religious leaders and other community leaders.

The Law Center report found harassment of Latinos common. "They are regularly taunted, spit upon and pelted with apples, full soda cans, beer bottles and other projectiles," the report says.

The report also says Latinos riding bikes have been run off the road and others have been shot at with BB guns and beaten with baseball bats. The brazen stabbing death of the Ecuadorian immigrant was yet another step on the ladder of increasing intolerance.

We're sharing this information today not to ease local consciences by contrast, but because of something else that has emerged since the murder. The Suffolk County Police Department is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation which is examining the department's handling of reports of racially motivated attacks against Hispanics. And the Southern Poverty Law Center report concludes that Latinos in Suffolk County live in an environment of intolerance and violence stoked by anti-immigrant groups, some county leaders and an indifferent police department. The report suggests that overt racism there began festering more than a decade ago.

We think there's a lesson for all other parts of the country in this sad story. As a community, we should deal quickly and fairly with allegations of racism, making no more and no less of each alleged infraction than is warranted, and with a few exceptions, that's what we've done. If we haven't learned well enough that to ignore racism is to encourage it, let Long Island's treatment of Hispanics remind us.

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