Nov. 17, 2008— -- When a detective came to Joselo Lucero's door and told him his brother had been fatally stabbed by seven teenagers, he thought for sure police had the wrong guy.
He quickly dialed his brother's cell and waited to hear the familiar voice on the other line.
"He never picked up the phone," Lucero told ABCNews.com
Marcello Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant from Patchogue, N.Y., was stabbed to death Nov. 8 by a gang of teens -- six white and one Hispanic.
Media reports have said the teens set out that night to attack a Mexican, but a Suffolk County district attorney office spokesman couldn't substantiate those claims.
Now his death has sparked a shock wave of anger and sadness in this community on New York's Long Island, with Hispanic leaders saying it took a murder for attention to finally be turned to ongoing racial tension between Hispanics, whites and Suffolk County officials.
The Rev. Allan Ramirez, pastor of the Brookville Reformed Church in neighboring Nassau County, has been involved in the Suffolk County Latino community for years.
He said Lucero's death is not an isolated incident, but the latest in a growing list of anti-Hispanic violence.
"And most likely, sadly, it will happen again," Ramirez said.
In past years, there have been beatings, robberies, vandalized properties, and reports of houses being burned down.
"We know when we talk in the streets, when we talk to the community, that hate crimes are occurring on a regular basis," Ramirez said.
There were six anti-Hispanic hate crimes in both 2005 and 2006 in Suffolk County and one in 2007, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, a number way off base with anecdotal evidence from the community.
Fear and Blame
Joselo Lucero said he's nervous living in that community.
"Sometimes you drive in the car and they see you're Hispanic, they'll pull you over," he said.
But Ramirez said only a very small percentage of crimes against Hispanics are reported due to fear in the community of both police and lawmakers.
The Suffolk County Police Department did not respond to several requests for comment by ABCNews.com.
County executive Steve Levy has been vilified in recent media reports after he was quoted as saying Lucero's death would have been a "one-day story" had it occurred in Nassau County and that it had only received media attention to draw attention to his stance on immigration policies.
Two days later, in a letter to the newspaper Newsday, Levy apologized, saying that "by defending myself, I deflected attention from what our true focus should be -- the denunciation by all people of good will of this vicious act.
"It was absolutely the wrong time for me to suggest that coverage of events in Suffolk is treated differently by the media," he continued in his letter. "The horrible incident is indeed more than a one-day story. It was a reminder of how far we as a society still have to go."
'Blood in His Hands'
Levy has been accused with anti-immigration sentiment in the past. Since he took office in 2004, the county has put forth laws on issues that some say pertain to the Hispanic community, both illegal and legal, including restrictions on non-related people living in the same residence and anti-loitering proposals that sought to cut down on day laborers who wait by the roadside looking for work.
He's also signed legislation to bar undocumented workers from being hired by county contractors and those with county licenses.
When asked to comment on his relations with the Hispanic community and his comments regarding the Lucero murder, Levy's spokesman said that the county executive "has consistently denounced this heinous act."
"This is not a time for politics, finger-pointing or a debate on the issue of illegal immigration," the spokesman said.
But Ramirez said the fact that Levy uttered those words at all "shows you an insight into his thinking ... how he views this community."
And there's no question in the pastor's mind that Levy and his policies bear at least some of the responsibility for what happened to Lucero.
"He, along with those seven young men, has blood in his hands," Ramirez said.
The seven teens have been charged and arraigned. The alleged ringleader, Jeffrey Conroy, 17, of Medford, N.Y., was charged with first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and first-degree gang assault. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail at the Suffolk County jail.
The remaining suspects, all charged with first-degree gang assault, pleaded not guilty and were assigned bond options. They are: Jordan Dasch, 17, Anthony Hartford, 17, Nicholas Hausch, 17, and Kevin Shea, 17, all of Medford, N.Y., as well as Christopher Overton, 16, and Jose Pacheco, 17, both of East Patchogue, N.Y.
Conroy's family could not be reached and his lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. Lawyers for Shea, Hartford, Kirby, Overton and Hausch told Newsday that their clients were not involved in the stabbing, while Conroy's lawyer told the newspaper that the high school athlete was not a racist.
Hoping for Something Better
Joselo Lucero said his brother came to the United States 16 years ago to make a better life for himself. He was always, his brother said, looking to improve his life -- always working, always saving his money from his job at a dry cleaning business.
"If he has 10 bucks, he thinks he's going to make it 20, no matter what," Joselo Lucero said, adding that his brother had recently talked about wanting to start a transportation business.
For fun, Marcello Lucero played volleyball and doted on a prized blue bicycle he rode everywhere.
The Lucero brothers and their sister all lived in the area, with their youngest sister and mother still living in Ecuador. Joselo remembered his older brother teasing him as a child, but being fiercely protective of him around others, so much so that Joselo said he was nervous going to middle school alone once the elder Lucero brother moved on to a different school.
Lucero was also a loving uncle, so proud of his youngest sister's young son, also his godson.
"He said ... 'Whatever I don't have, I have to give it to him,'" Joselo said.
Though many eyes are on Patchogue now, it's certainly not the only hotbed of anti-Hispanic sentiment.
Sergio Rodriguez, executive director of the Manhattan-based Hispanics Across America, said many Americans don't care to discern between illegal immigrants and Hispanics who are here legally. And being illegal, he said, doesn't mean the person will steal or rape or murder.
He said he understands why Americans get frustrated when school populations jump from 800 to 1,200 when many of the parents are undocumented and not paying taxes to fund their children's educations.
But the illegal immigrants tend to be poorly educated with no grasp of American law. They cut corners to find work and make ends meet.
"But they're not doing it to be malicious," Rodriguez said.
Suffolk County has seen a rise in its Hispanic population, though Ramirez estimated only 8 to 10 percent of that is made up of illegal immigrants, the group most often targeted by legislation and ne'er do wells.
Hispanics account for 13 percent of the county population, according to 2006 Census estimates, up from 10.5 percent in 2000. In 2000, Patchogue's Hispanic population was 23.8 percent.
And the vast cultural divide does little to endear many Hispanic immigrants to their American neighbors, Rodriguez said.
Hispanics Across America tries to educate immigrants just as much as the communities they enter, he said. They tell them they can't be out on the streets, drinking and partying -- a harmless pastime in many Latin countries. They tell them they can't be blaring loud music from their apartments, something else that's the norm in their native hometowns.
"Just because some guy is urinating on my front porch doesn't give me the right to go out there and kill him," Rodriguez said. "But he shouldn't be doing that."
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for immigration reform and reduction, said the blame for immigration problems in the United States should be placed with the policymakers, not the immigrants themselves.
Though his organization believes that immigration drives economic injustice and contributes to worker displacement and overpopulation, NumbersUSA says it's not right to beat up or murder immigrants to make things change.
He called Lucero's murder a "horrific crime" and the suspected teens "opportunistic thugs," but said it's unfair to turn his murder into a political forum on immigration.
But Joselo Lucero wants his brother's murder to mean change for his community, the community he sought out after hearing about its many job opportunities.
"His death has not got to be for nothing," he said. "I want to know ... that our community is together and we are human beings."