Viewing Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness in your Classroom | Not in Our Town

Viewing Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness in your Classroom

Grade Level: 
Middle School (6-8)
High School (9-12)


Educator Viewing Guide: Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness
Overview of the Film and Viewing Guide
Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community.
In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York, culminate in the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years. Over a two-year period, the story follows Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and everyday Patchogue residents as they address the underlying causes of the violence, heal divisions, and begin taking steps to ensure everyone in their village will be safe and respected.
The documentary leaves the viewer with the question, “What will you do to stop hate in your town?”
About Not In Our Town: Developed by The Working Group in 1995, Not In Our Town began with a PBS documentary that told the story of how people in Billings, Montana, joined together to respond to a series of hate crimes in their town. This simple, powerful story of people banding together struck a chord with audiences, and created a model that inspired viewers around the country to hold their own campaigns against intolerance. Not In Our Town has grown from a PBS documentary into a national effort to connect people working together to take action against hate and create safe, inclusive communities.
Note to Educators: The purpose of the Educator Viewing Guide is to support integrating the film Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness and the critical issues it poses into a classroom setting. We begin the guide by asking three questions to frame the viewing experience.
  • What is a community?
  • What does it mean to live in a safe and welcoming community?
  • How can a community respond when its safety has been damaged?
To examine these questions with your students this Educator Viewing Guide is organized into two sections, Pre-Viewing and Post-Viewing. The Pre-Viewing section includes suggested guidelines in order to foster a safe classroom discussion for all students along with sample questions and vocabulary to explore prior to viewing the film.
The Post-Viewing section then invites students to further reflect upon the difficult content of the film and asks students to connect this story to their own lives today. Please take a moment to read through the entire viewing guide prior to screening the film in order to best prepare yourself and your students.
Pre-Viewing: Suggested Guidelines for Viewing the Film in a Classroom Setting
To openly discuss the issues this film raises, it is critical to create a safe classroom environment for all students. Some teachers make contracts with their students to underscore the importance of these conversations. Participants agree to create a comfortable place to conduct uncomfortable conversations, a space where it is okay to disagree without fear of being laughed at or ostracized. To accomplish these goals, participants strive to:
  • Acknowledge what they have in common — in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “a heart, a face, a voice, the presence of a soul, fears, hope, the ability to trust, a capacity for compassion and understanding, the kinship of being human”; avoid defining others but instead allowing them to define themselves. 
  • Listen to diverse opinions with what Judge Learned Hand once called “the spirit of liberty” — “the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit ... which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; [and] which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”
  • Recognize the difference between opinion and informed judgment.
  • Reserve judgment, knowing that there are no easy answers to the issues that divide us. 
  • Question or criticize ideas — not individuals.
The following guidelines can help instill these goals prior to viewing the film. We invite you to revisit the guidelines and to add to this list as different needs arise in your class.
  • Listen with respect. Try to understand what someone is saying before rushing to judgment.
  • Make comments using “I” statements.
  • Don’t represent a whole group, nor ask others to represent or defend an entire group. 
  • If you do not feel safe making a comment or asking a question, write the thought in your journal. You can share the idea with your teacher first and together come up with a safe way to share the idea.
  • If someone says something that hurts or offends you, do not attack the person. In case the comment was misunderstood, you might ask a clarifying question. Acknowledge that the comment was hurtful and explain why.
  • Put-downs are never okay.
  • Do not interrupt others when they are speaking.
  • Some teachers post contracts on a bulletin board in the classroom. Some students make a copy and keep it in their journal or notebook.
  • Consider how a class can ensure that the agreements they make will be honored. What should happen when the contract is broken? 


Pre-Viewing: Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How do you define a community? What qualities are essential to create a strong community? What qualities make a community unique?


2. Just like individuals, communities have identities, and factors such as geography, politics, economics, and historical events influence the identity of a community. Create an identity chart for your community by drawing a circle with the name of the town in the middle. Around that circle, write the words and phrases that you use to describe your town. Here is an example of an identity chart for an individual. [Download identity chart as PDF]

In a different color pen, add the labels that others, who don’t live in your town, might attach to it. Compare your identity chart with your classmates. What is similar among your charts? What differences do you notice? How do you account for those differences?

3. Think again of the community in which you currently live. Who lives in your community and who does not? Has the makeup of your community changed over time? What accounts for that change? How do people in your community learn who belongs and who doesn’t?


4. What makes a community safe for everyone? What makes a place within a community a safe place for everyone?


5. Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is the story of a community coming together in the wake of a hate crime committed against one of its residents, Marcelo Lucero. He was an immigrant to the United States from Ecuador and this was part of his identity. What reasons do you think individuals and families choose to leave their home country and immigrate to another country?

Reflect upon your own family’s heritage. How is your family’s story similar to and different from Lucero’s experience?

6. According the F.B.I., “a hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime, and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties. How do you define a hate crime? How is a hate crime different than other crimes?

For more information on defining hate crimes, go to

7. How do labels shape the way you view others? In the film people talk about immigrants, illegal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. What do these labels mean? What associations do you have with these words? How might they shape the perceptions people have of newcomers?



Post-Viewing: Suggested Discussion Questions

1. After viewing the film, has your definition of community changed? Why?


2. How did the different residents of Patchogue describe their town before Lucero’s murder? What words and phrases stand out for you? How do you explain the different ways that residents described their town?


3. Do you think most residents of Patchogue perceived their community as safe or unsafe prior to the murder of Marcelo Lucero? Who felt safe? Who felt vulnerable? Why?


4. Police Inspector Mojica recounted, “[Hispanic residents] felt they couldn’t call 911. And I was concerned about that. Not only as a Hispanic but also as, you know, a citizen of this country and also as a patrol officer.”  What barriers, perceived or real, existed in the community that lead some residents to fear contacting law enforcement? How did law enforcement respond to this climate? Was it effective? How do community agencies like law enforcement build and ensure community trust?


5. How do people in the film describe the young men who attacked Lucero? Why do you think the young men thought it was acceptable to attack immigrants? What might attract boys, described in the film as normal and even popular, to racist beliefs and behavior? How did their friends respond?


6. Newsday Journalist Joye Brown noted that violence directed at Hispanics in this community was an “open secret.” Given this assessment, how do people in the film try to explain what led to Lucero’s murder? To what extent are the issues they describe particular to Patchogue? To what extent might they exist elsewhere? Based on these explanations, what might be the reasons you think this group of young men committed this crime?


7. The students at Patchogue-Medford High School shared a variety of responses to why their classmates may have committed this crime. One student said, “In our school, we have a problem where everybody just follows one another…It’s hard to speak up.” Another student said, “I kinda knew what was going on. Like they would go hop [the term in the film refers to “beaner hopping,” a racial slur describing when an individual intends to beat up another because he/she is Hispanic]…If I’m going behind their back and telling, people are gonna think I’m a rat. And I kinda regret it now because I wished if I woulda said something maybe someone didn’t have to lose their life that night.”

Why do you think students and community members in these situations hesitated to speak up? Why is it more difficult to speak up and report an injustice committed by someone you know?

8. The narrator explains that there were warning signs and trouble in Patchogue. What signs do you think were missed? Why do you think people so often miss warning signs before there is trouble?

What steps can each of us take to be proactive in our communities rather than reactive after violence or an injustice has occurred?

9. What are the identifiable warning signs in a community that could possibly lead to acts of violence? If you witness hate and discrimination in your community, what is your responsibility? What can you do about it? What are the immediate steps you believe can be adopted when these warning signs occur?


10. Detective Sergeant Reekes, commanding officer of the hate crimes unit in Suffolk County, asked, “So who commits hate crimes? Only white guys against black guys? Straight against gay? Pretty much everybody does. But it’s clear that it’s not in your DNA. You’re not born with it. It has to be learned… And where does it get learned? Home. Possibly at school. Possibly the media. We can keep going on. The Internet. The Internet is huge.”

What do you think is being learned that leads someone or a group to commit a hate crime?
11. After a hate crime, what needs to happen for the community to heal? Where can individuals go? What can civic leaders do? What can law enforcement do?
12. In 2009, in the aftermath of the Lucero murder, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent a Spanish-speaking researcher to Suffolk County to interview Latino residents, both documented and undocumented, over a period of months. The researcher discovered that the Lucero murder, while the worst of the violence so far, was hardly an isolated incident. The report entitled “Climate of Fear” states,
 Although Suffolk County is not unique — many communities across the United States are undergoing similar racial conflicts and rapid demographic changes — there are several concrete measures county officials could take to remedy what has been a worsening problem there for a decade:
  • First, local politicians should halt their angry demagoguery on the issue of immigration…There is abundant evidence that Suffolk County officials have contributed substantially to an atmosphere conducive to racial violence.
  • Second, the county and state legislatures should mandate that crime victims and witnesses not be asked their immigration status during criminal investigations. As long as they are, immigrants will be unwilling to come out of the shadows to report crimes against themselves and others.
  • Third, law enforcement officials should train officers to ensure that they take seriously cases of hate-motivated crime. Until they do, Latino residents will continue to distrust law enforcement officials and avoid cooperation.
  • Fourth, the county should maintain accurate hate crime statistics that are readily available to the public. Doing so will help guide county leaders and residents in confronting the problem of hate-motivated violence.
  • Fifth, the county should promote educational programs in the public schools to encourage respect for diversity and opposition to hatred. In the end, educating the next generation is the only permanent antidote to hate.
If these measures are taken to combat an increasingly volatile situation, it’s likely that angry passions in Suffolk can be cooled and a rational debate on immigration and its consequences begun. The alternative is that the county continues to foster a dangerous growth of violent racial intolerance and nativism — a climate of fear.” (The report can be found in its entirety at
What is your opinion of these recommendations? Do you think public officials have a role in perpetuating a “climate of fear” or supporting a “climate of safety”? Do you believe, as the report states, that education in schools is the only antidote to hate?
13. How did different people in Patchogue respond to Lucero’s murder? What choices stand out for you? How do you think they would explain their choices?
14. Several community groups, government officials and students decided to take action in response to Lucero’s murder. How do you think their actions impacted the larger community? What other actions would you like to see the community consider?
15. Do you believe justice was achieved for Marcelo Lucero’s family? If so, how? If not, what needs to occur for justice to be achieved?
16. In November 2010, the estate of Marcelo Lucero filed a federal lawsuit accusing Suffolk County, its police department, the town of Brookhaven, and the village of Patchogue of violating his civil rights by failing to protect Hispanics in the same manner that they protected whites. What role do trials play in the pursuit of justice?
17. What are other examples of a community repairing itself and coming together to be more inclusive in the wake of a hate crime?
18. As communities across the nation continue to forge new identities with new residents, understanding how a community creates a shared collective identity and how policy is developed to support this process becomes ever more important.
Following a five year study on current immigration policy and its impact on social cohesion, Professor of Sociology Robert Putnam suggests “The challenge for a successful immigrant society is to, over time, over a decade or two, make people become more comfortable with diversity by creating a new sense of identity that cuts across these lines, a sense of shared identity – as Red Sox baseball fans, or as people who play soccer together, or as people who go to mass together – people who share something in common that overrides and that for a while trumps this sense of their ethnic diversity.”
What do you think Putnam means? How do you create a shared identity? Why do you think he believes that there is a need to share something that may trump this “sense of their ethnic diversity?”
President Barak Obama speaks about his own identity this way:
“I am the son of a Black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I have gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owner — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, and cousins of every race and every hue scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”
Professor of Psychology and Dean of Stanford’s School of Education Claude Steele explains “Obama is not hiding his racial identities, but embracing them, not advocating a color-blind or post-racial society, but pointing to the many colors that make up this society. He is putting his identity and his multiple identities forward, using them as a bridge.” (Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us, 2010.)
What is President Obama trying to communicate about identity? How can identity divide a community or when can identity serve as a bridge?
19. Mayor Pontieri’s explains, “Change comes in little pieces.” Ask students to reflect upon the changes this community made in order to build a safer community for all its residents.
What response(s) was most inspiring? Why? What response(s) would you like to see continue? What new response(s) would you recommend for their future? What response(s) do you think will endure over time?


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