PATCHOGUE, NEW YORK
Only the roar of the train that comes and goes from Manhattan alters the calm in the Patchogue street where the Ecuadorian man, Marcelo Lucero, was killed.
But on Thursday another type of upheaval broke the silence in this town of Long Island, New York. Republican leader Donald Trump spoke at an event hall just 500 meters away from the racially-motivated crime which is still fresh in the memory of the community eight years later.
Neighbors and activists felt a degree of provocation over the presence of a candidate who has enflamed anti-immigrant sentiment for political rally in a place of great emotional sensitivity, and scheduled a protest. The New York Times in an editorial encouraged its readers to join calling the Trump rally "a disgraceful provocation," adding "there is no place that should welcome Mr. Trump’s politics, but the choice of Patchogue is particularly repellent."
Lucero was stabbed in 2008 by a gang of teenagers who made it a nighttime pastime to terrorize Latinos. The death brought Long Island to the center of a national anti-undocumented immigrant debate.
That didn't stop a group of about 100 Trump supporters on Thursday who turned out to defend his right to speak in the town of 12,000 residents five days before the state's crucial primary election.
“It's not insensitive,” retired policeman, Anthony Frontino, said emphatically. “Unfortunately crimes get committed. You cannot blame it on everybody."
“It's silly that Trump cannot cme her because someone was killed eight years ago,” added his wife Mary.
About 1,050 people paid $150 each to see Trump speak. The real estate billionaire promised to create manufacturing jobs in an area hit by factory closures.
“Few regions of the country have been more affected than Suffolk (County). I don't know why. It's very pretty," he said.
Hundreds protested outside carrying placards saying "Hate is not welcome in Patchogue," or “Make America Love Again."
The murder of Lucero was linked to a "climate of hate," and intolerance that had been stirred up by the Suffolk County authorities, where Patchogue is located, according to
a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many now fear that Trump’s rhetoric on immigration may end up having tragic effects.
Joselo Lucero, the victim's brother, said that an ever more intolerant society feels entitled to be this way thanks to Trump. "The language of hatred is powerful," Lucero's brother, Joselo, told Univision. He led Thursday's protest.
"We thought that we were living in a new environment, and they are coming out of the shadows," he lamented.
Steve Levy, the top county executive at the time of the crime, taunted activists protesting against the anti-undocumented legislation, saying the crime had nothing to do with local county policies, nd was rather "a question of bad people doing horrific things."
In March 2007, a county legislator, Elie Mystal, said Latino immigrants looking for work on street corners were a legitimate target. "If I lived in a neighborhood where people gathered like that, I would load my gun and start to shoot. Period."
This type of language became more common with the recession, but had its roots in past acts of discrimination in Long Island. The suburb of Levittown, about 30 miles east of Patchogue, became
a symbol of segregation in the United States after World War II due to a whites-only policy.
Community leader, Daniel Altschuler, says Trump's visit comes just when the community is moving towards a more tolerant coexistence.
"We have fought hard to counter that legacy of exclusion and racism," says Altschuler, managing director of the Make the Road Action group. The county approved an executive order in 2012 that guaranteed the use of interpreters in the provision of public services.
"Now fear is spreading that Trump may reopen the old wounds," said Altschuler.
Trump was invited by the Suffolk Republican Party, who refused to listen to protestors and cancellation requests.
"The event Thursday at The Emporium, which is a frequent event site for the Suffolk County Republican Committee, was scheduled over two months ago," said John Jay LaValle, chairman of the party in the county, in a press statement.
"At that time, the event was open to all Republican presidential candidates. Trump confirmed his attendance last week," he added.
But many doubt the good faith of the Republican leaders.
"Here in Patchogue nobody has forgotten that crime," said Danny Hernández, a Puerto Rican who lives in the same street where Lucero was killed. "We were on national news, we were everywhere. What they are doing is not right."
For more 2016 election coverage in Spanish: Elecciones 2016