Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read his column here
Ruben Navarrette Jr. says the debate over immigration has led to anti-Hispanic sentiment.
SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- How's this for a paradox: Just days after Americans made history by electing the first black president, seven teenage thugs in Patchogue, New York, pulled a shameful page from history by forming what one prosecutor called a "lynch mob."
If the account given by police and prosecutors is correct, the idea was to assault any Hispanic they could find in a ritual the youths charmingly called "beaner jumping."
The bullies found 37-year-old Marcello Lucero, who was attacked, beaten and stabbed to death. The alleged assailants include Jeffrey Conroy, Jordan Dasch, Anthony Hartford, Nicholas Hausch, Jose Pacheco, and Kevin Shea, all 17, and Christopher Overton, 16.
As the person who authorities allege stabbed Lucero, Conroy is charged with first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. The others are charged with first-degree gang assault.
According to Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, all seven "admitted their involvement ... in this crime." They pleaded not guilty in court. Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Nancy Clifford said the suspects wanted to "find some Mexicans to ---- up." Read CNN's news story on the killing
Lucero wasn't Mexican. He came to the United States from Ecuador 16 years ago. Not that it mattered to his attackers. For what they had in mind, one Hispanic was as good as the next. They also probably didn't care about Lucero's legal status. No one stops a lynching to ask for a green card.
There are things that are so horrible that human beings should never become desensitized to them. Near the top of the list: when someone is killed because of his race, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation. That we cannot tolerate.
Nor should we tolerate an immigration debate that turned anti-Hispanic and that some now blame for incidents such as this.
In 2006, the last year for which statistics are available, Hispanics were -- according to the FBI -- the No. 1 victim of hate crimes motivated by ethnicity or national origin, representing 62.8 percent of the victims of such crimes.
When tragedy strikes, there are always those who look for someone to blame. In Suffolk County, local activists are blaming public officials who have crusaded against illegal immigration to score political points with their constituents.
The anti-immigrant atmosphere was something even the presidential candidates talked about. Earlier this year, Barack Obama pointed to comments by radio and television hosts critical of immigration. "A certain segment has basically been feeding a kind of xenophobia," he told supporters at a Palm Beach, Florida, fundraiser, tying that sentiment to an increase in hate crimes against Hispanics.
In an interview just before the election, Sen. John McCain told me that there have always been those who stoke fears that American culture and the English language are on their way out.
Meanwhile, Lucero's mother still can't believe what happened to her son -- or why it happened. She told a reporter that she doesn't understand the hate. "We are human beings," she said. Some people seem to have forgotten that fact.
Before he died, Lucero worked at a dry-cleaning shop. I suspect this was not the kind of job that would have appealed to those charged with attacking him. As suburban kids who obviously had too much time on their hands, they probably thought themselves too cool for that kind of work.
They're not alone. We've raised two or maybe three generations of Americans who think they're entitled to shun the kind of jobs that their parents and grandparents did years ago.
So who does the work? Take a wild guess. The same people who clean our hotel rooms, cook our food, care for our kids, build our homes, mow our lawns, etc. And, for their trouble, they are vilified, exploited and treated as scapegoats for all of society's ills.
In case you're keeping score at home, Hispanic immigrants are said to be responsible for street crime, traffic congestion, global warming, underperforming schools and crowded hospitals. In fact, recently, they were blamed for the collapse on Wall Street.
Who knew? I realized that Hispanic immigrants are tireless workers who could multitask. But I had no idea that they could -- in between doing our chores -- create so much havoc and misery. Or have so much havoc and misery visited upon them.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Ruben Navarrette