"When we are free of bigotry we all will be free at last."
Some 80 to 100 citizens including clergy, leaders of community organizations and others crammed a meeting room at the East Hampton Methodist Church last Sunday evening to speak out in support of Luis Ochoa of Montauk and against intolerance in the town.
Ochoa was beaten two weeks ago by an attacker who now has been charged with a hate crime.
Speakers talked about past un-reported violence, friction among children in the schools and the difficulty for immigrants in getting to work in the face of police check points for drivers' licenses. They advocated speaking out against intolerance and working with youth to avoid another generation in what film maker Carlos Sandoval called 'the cycle of fear and hatred'.
The meeting was called by members of the East Hampton Anti-Bias Task Force. Jaqui Candamir and Dafna Prial of the ABTF spoke. Chini Alarco translated between Spanish and English.
Reverend Noelle Koestline of the Methodist Church, speaking in both Spanish and English set the tone, declaring "we won't allow racial violence without protesting".
Deborah Stein, cantor of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons spoke and sang about crossing the bridge that divides us and embracing our differences.
Luis Ochoa, the attack victim, advocates for Latinos in East Hampton. He came here from Columbia six years where he was an attorney. Now he works at a hotel. He said that he came from a country where people are under attack by 'terrorist' groups to face an attack here.
He said he is encouraged by community support to speak for those who are afraid to speak.
Other speakers said that this is not the first such incident, but the first one where the victim was not afraid to speak out. Ochoa was commended for his stance.
Mr. Sunshine Lemme who directs Emergency Medical Technicians in East Hampton and also works at a Montauk restaurant spoke about the two communities he works with. He says there is much bigotry among the all-white crew at the firehouse and sometimes he feels more at home with the West Indian and Latino crew at the restaurant.
Lemme said that people who react with hatred are afraid for their jobs, their status and their homes. There is bigotry at his workplace and in the town and all over the USA.
Jack Purna, the Montauk School Superintendent said that both Latino and Anglo children witnessed the beating of Ochoa. Efforts are ongoing to talk with these children.
Film maker Carlos Sandoval of Amagansett and New York sent a message. Sandoval produced the film about violence against Latino workers in Farmingville. Sandoval said the fear which affects the youth must be mended and that in western Suffolk and Nassau efforts are being made to take action for the youth but the East End is lagging.
Other local ministers who spoke included retired Rev. George Wilson, Rev. Jack King of the Southampton United Methodist Church, Rev. Yveette Schock of St. Michaels Lutheran Church in Amagansett and Rev. Joe Hinds of the Springs Presbyterian Church.
Rev. Hinds whose Springs neighborhood is home to many spanish speaking families said he just returned from a trip with youth to the King Center in Atlanta. They listened to King's speeches and saw the power of the children of Birmingham standing against discrimination. Rev. Hinds
said "Speak(aginst racism) in public places and the youth will see".
Rev. Jack King who is a member of the Southampton Anti-Bias Task Force said that group is in solidarity with the East Hampton community. Rev. King asked why perpetrators of hate crimes think they can get away with their racial slurs. King said we are a nation of laws and he looks to the trial to get the answers.
Several speakers questioned why it took more than a week for an arrest to be made. The beating took place on April 18. Mark Dombrowski of Montauk who had been identified as the attacker at that time was arrested on April 29 by East Hampton Town Police and charged with
third degree assault as a hate crime. Dombrowski had left the country in the interim.
Lucius Ware, the President of the Eastern Long Island Branch of the NAACP said that the organization's main purpose is to wipe out discrimination that takes place here on a regular basis. He said "we have many jobs to do and some are just starting. We must stand together. "
Neil Hausig of the Whalebone Housing Board said that the treatment of Latinos in East Hampton fits the model of discrimination against black people that existed for years here when blacks 'dissapeared' from the streets and could not get jobs.
Sunshine Lemme of the EMT crew said that when as a young man he heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr speak about being 'Free At Last' he thought this was only about black people. Now he says he knows it is about all of us. "When we are free of bigotry we all will be free at last."