In Nanuet, NY, a Rockland County town about 30 miles north of Manhattan, two men got drunk at a mall, so police called a cab to take them home.
The men were white. The cab driver was Latino. When the men arrived at their destination, they pulled the driver out of his cab and beat him brutally, shouting racist epithets until neighbors called the cops.
The attackers were not charged with a hate crime. It was the third violent assault on Latino workers in recent months in this progressive and increasingly diverse county, and for some local residents, enough was enough.
“There was an outpouring of sympathy and outrage, but no organized way to deal with it,” notes Michael Mandel, president of the board of Rockland Family Shelter, which provides all the area’s domestic violence, sexual assault and crime victims services.
In the fall of 2009, a broad coalition of activists, law enforcement, educators, and other people concerned about safety in the community gathered in Spring Valley to watch the first NIOT film about Billings, Montana. The group continues to meet monthly, and has taken the name Not In Our Town Rockland County.
Mandel says the impetus for the group’s creation was this rash of attacks on Latino day laborers, many of whom are undocumented. They get paid in cash—if you don’t have papers, you can’t open a bank account—stuff the money in their pockets, and are easy targets for mugging. “Local kids think of them as walking ATMs, because they carry so much cash,” Mandel says.
Gail Golden, clinical director of VCS Inc, a human service agency with a social justice mission, and co-chair of the Rockland County Immigration Coalition, notes that few of the victims report their attacks, for fear of deportation. Most are from Mexico, and many don’t speak Spanish well, much less English—their native tongue might be an indigenous language.
“Spring Valley is the epicenter of diversity in the county,” she says, adding that most of the Latinos are men working in construction, landscaping and the restaurant industry.
Since its inception, the group has broadened its focus and is seeking to address the underlying causes of intolerance in the community, educate through action, and perhaps set up a first response team that would ensure the appropriate agencies are alerted immediately when a hate crime occurs.
NIOT Rockland County has already taken action.
Some members joined the candlelight vigils for murdered Latino workers in Patchogue, NY and Brooklyn. (The Patchogue story, about the 2008 murder of Marcelo Lucero, is featured in several NIOT.org films, including our upcoming 2011 PBS documentary.)
Some members are working with local schools to help introduce a curriculum promoting inclusion and acceptance.
And in June 2010, NIOT Rockland County launched a poster campaign, using the poster pictured above, which was designed by a group member. It was sent to the group’s entire email list, and people county-wide were encouraged to place it in their windows, to demonstrate their commitment to a hate-free community. The campaign launch was covered in the local press, a key element in any such venture.
As a follow-up to the poster campaign, the group is holding a July 8 screening of the original “Not In Our Town” film, which includes the Billings story that has motivated the creation of so many groups nationwide, including in Rockland County. The free screening and discussion will be held from 7pm to 8:30pm at the Spring Valley Public Library, and is open to the public.
“We are still trying to make our way,” says Golden.