Preventing Hate Crime in Tampa Bay

TAMPA (2011-11-1) -

Hate crimes caused by racial discrimination can affect any community – even one as diverse as Tampa Bay. That’s the message from a panel of experts who spoke recently at WUSF Public Media.

More than 50 people gathered at WUSF to hear the panel and watch the documentary, “Not in Our Town: Light in the Darkness.”

The documentary chronicles the beating death of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant in Long Island, and the community-wide call-to-action that followed.

It also shows the community’s response to Lucero’s death and the steps taken to prevent any hate crime from happening again.

After the documentary, a panel consisting of a community activist, a student, and a police officer answered the questions, “What would happen if a hate crime took place in the Tampa Bay region? Is our community prepared to respond to such discrimination?”

Panelist Ana Gomez of Tampa, 15, says she hears anti-immigrant slurs every day. She says she believes the community would come together after a hate crime, but that’s not the important question.

"But are we equipped and are we working for this NOT to happen? Not to be ready if it does happen… but for this not to happen?” she asked.

Others, like recent USF graduate Yulliana Novoa, agree that prevention is the key in fighting hate crimes.

“How can we as a community help each other to prevent this from happening, so that it doesn’t happen?” she asked.

Some legal steps are already in place to cease discrimination before it even begins.

Officer Sergio Fidelis of the Clearwater Police Department said law enforcement is trying to be more proactive, starting with Operation Apoyo Hispano in 2001.

“A lot of people in the Hispanic community in Clearwater felt like they couldn’t report crimes, felt like they didn’t have a voice,” he said.

“People—documented or not documented, Hispanic or not Hispanic—walk in there on a daily basis and they will be heard. And I think that everyone—every community—needs to have something like that.”

The event, hosted by Community Tampa Bay, was part of the Not in Our Town Inclusive Communities Initiative. WUSF is one of 12 public media partners to received grant funding for the project.

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