Create a Memorial to Understanding

I was saddened this week by the conclusion of the trial of Jeffrey Conroy for the murder of Marcelo Lucero. His conviction for first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime did not serve so much as a conclusion, but another reminder of the larger context of this crime. The rage expressed by his father at the announcement of his sentence to 25 years in prison may be understandable as the pent-up hurricane of emotions of a grieved father, but may also be understood as the physical representation of a community wishing for something better.

This case has had particular resonance in our Suffolk Congregational churches because my clergy brother, the Rev. Dwight Wolter, pastor of the Patchogue Congregational Church, has been closely involved in this case from the beginning. Dwight wrote an email that shared the despair he felt that the sentencing means that we haven’t learned anything new from this case,

“It is my fear that on many levels we are more polarized than before. I know there are solutions; but I often feel that the blind are speaking to the deaf. And the work of film crews and task forces and coalitions are running around listening to themselves and few else. I knew since the day I stood in the pulpit, preaching over the open casket of Marcelo Lucero that what happened in court today was almost inevitable unless we tried something radically new and instead we pursued a path of mediocre sameness undergirded by numbness or rage. Everyone… EVERYONE… deserves a seat at the table of justice. … I feel like yesterday’s oatmeal still stuck to a spoon. May God have mercy, because no one else seems interested.”

My hope that is that the horror of this murder would have been enough to force a sea change in our community: from blaming the immigrants to fighting for a real change in immigration; from viewing problems as always over there, and not in our neighborhood; from politicians and commentators who refuse to acknowledge responsibility when their hate speech opens the door to the frustrations of young people.

In many ways we seem to be status quo. The criminal justice system as done its work and a teenager will spend at least two decades behind bars—most likely in isolation as the racial nature of the crime makes prison dangerous for him. The Lucero family seems to be satisfied with the result and now try to live with the brand of emptiness that comes when a loved one is murdered. But nothing more has happened.

Part of my sadness is that I realize I haven’t done much to help encourage the change I preach. Perhaps one little step is to realize that we are all connected—in particular, we are all responsible for our children. We as parents, we as the adults in church, and we as neighbors to all our community’s children. Hate grows in the silence of good people. It is our responsibility to teach our children well.

If you are feeling as frustrated by this as I am, then join me in reaching out to some young person and sharing something about alternatives to hate—understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, love, compassion.

Every year on Memorial Day I pray that the sacrifices of so many heroic service members will inspire us to give of ourselves to create the sort of country for which we all yearn. May the ones who gave their live be proud of the giving we do on behalf of a society with greater opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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