Possible bias crime at Patchogue church

September 2, 2009 2:39:53 PM PDT
Police on Long Island are investigating a possible bias crime against a pastor and members of his church. Investigators say anti-Latino notes were found on Tuesday night at the altar of a church on Railroad Avenue in Patchogue.

It is very troubling for many who live in this community.

"This is not the spirit and the community soul that we have. I don't know where this is coming from, but this isn't us," Patchogue resident Karen Leavandosky said.

Roberto Sanchez pointed to the exact spots inside his church where someone left notes laced with words of hate.

Police say the three handwritten notes in Spanish contained anti-Hispanic comments all geared towards Pastor Sanchez and the 70 member congregation, made up mostly of immigrants.

"Another note said Hispanics don't rule here. Whites rule here," Sanchez said.

Investigators believe the suspects broke into the small church on Railroad Avenue through a back window.

Nothing was taken. Still, there is a sense of loss among worshipers and those strolling the streets of the seaside village.

"Everyone should have the right to freedom of worship and nobody should do this nobody," Karen Leavandosky said.

New York Governor David Paterson released the following statement:

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the most recent hate crime that occurred at a Latino church in Patchogue. Just yesterday, I gathered with a group of more than 20 Latino leaders from around the state to discuss issues affecting the Latino community. In addition to health care, jobs, and youth services, bias-motivated crimes were a major concern. And now, just one day later, we are faced with yet another heinous incident, demonstrating that the threat of hate crimes requires our urgent attention. Last month, I announced the release of the Hate Crimes Task Force (HCTF) report to help New Yorkers better respond to and prevent bias crimes. We are in the process of implementing the recommendations, including enhanced hate crimes training for law enforcement officials and the development of curricula for students, teachers and school staff. Today, I have directed the Division of Human Rights to expand its outreach in working with community leaders to identify solutions that will erase this climate of fear. I am also calling for a meeting in Suffolk County of civic leaders and clergy to create a unified strategy to address the underlying issues that result in people being targeted for brutality."

Many residents say this incident is troubling because it seems to be part of a new pattern of hate.

In November, right across the street from the church, Marcelo Lucero was killed in what police say was a bias attack. Seven local teens allegedly stabbed the Ecuadorian immigrant to death.

Some residents say tension has been building over the years.

"They never look at you or say hello or goodbye. Some will nod, most walk away and stay away," Donna Mujic said.

Pastor Sanchez believes those who violated the most sacred part of his church will be arrested.

The mayor is cautiously optimistic that all of the outreach and community meetings they've done here in Patchogue will change minds.

"Those who you really want to effect will not show up, so all of the work you do -- are you about to reach the disenfranchised? I don't know," Mayor Paul Pontieri Jr. said.