Home Opinion Denise Civiletti Yes, racism is alive in Riverhead – and not just on Facebook

Yes, racism is alive in Riverhead –
and not just on Facebook

Hate reared its ugly head again.

This time it was in the form of an racist rant by the wife of a public official.

The sentiments expressed by Dianne Kozakiewicz aka Diane Delaney on Facebook are vile and despicable.

But let’s be honest. Many people have voiced shock and outrage, but this is far from an isolated incident.

Racism lives. It’s usually just a lot more subtle than someone screaming “GO BACK TO AFRICA!” in all caps. Now and again, the veneer is perforated and the ugly bubbles out. But it’s under there all along.

I wrote in a column in February 2002: “If you scoff at the notion of ‘white privilege,’ you are undoubtedly white. You don’t know what it’s like to be assumed criminal, or lazy, or stupid, because of your skin color. Neither do I. But I’d bet it would be hard to find a black person who hasn’t battled those assumptions. Racism lives.”

Blackness strikes fear in the heart, even among our armed police officers — and yes, even in black police officers. Racism is the reason for the wildly disproportionate incarceration of black men.

Racism lives in Riverhead Town Hall — a very, very white place. Our white elected officials will beg to differ, I’m sure. But the composition of the town work force speaks for itself. So does the composition of our police force. They nowhere near reflect the diversity of our community. Coincidence? Come on. Every member of the town’s planning board and zoning board is white. So is just about every member of every other board that’s appointed by the town board. There are 16 different committees, most of which have at least five members. Only three of them have any black appointees: the recreation advisory committee has one black member and the senior citizen advisory council has two black members. The anti-bias task force, whose job is to fight bias in our community, has half a dozen black or Latino members — of the 25 people appointed to it by the town board.

I’m not saying the town board consciously and purposely appoints only white people to these committees. But the result is the same.

And it breeds an atmosphere that allows a sitting member of the town’s zoning board of appeals to post a rant about the first black American president, calling him a “mother f’in muslim commy terrorist that’s occupying the White House” without any consequence whatsoever. (Those were the words of ZBA member Frank Seabrook posted on Facebook on May 15, 2013. I was appalled and wrote to the town board to complain. I got one reply, from Supervisor Sean Walter, who wrote in an email, “Wow, that may even be illegal. I will definitely refer this to our Ethics Board.” I never heard anything more about it. On January 6, 2015, the town board unanimously reappointed Seabrook to another five-year term on the ZBA.)

While racist comments directed at or about blacks are less frequent than they were in years past, hardly a day goes by that doesn’t see racist comments posted about Latinos on our website’s Facebook page. The mere mention of a Latino-sounding name triggers an all-too-predictable tide of hateful comments about “illegals” from people who can’t conceive that not all Latino immigrants are undocumented. The freedom people feel to spew hate at Latinos takes my breath away. One woman commented on a story about four young girls — all Latina — who’d completed a summer educational program, “Why are they ALL illegals? Should be shot on sight.”

And it’s not just on social media. It happens in the “real world” too. One of our own reporters, a mother in her mid-30s who happens to be an immigrant from Spain, was cursed and shouted at recently as she drove her kids to summer camp. She committed the “crime” of playing and singing along with music in her native tongue, with her car windows down. “Go home!” a man driving a Jeep yelled at her.

Police reports of Latino men being beaten and robbed on our streets have become commonplace. The police chief declines to classify these incidents as hate crimes. They are “crimes of opportunity,” he told me. I find it hard to believe these muggings take place, where groups of two or three youths punch and kick a man on the ground, without any hate speech ever being uttered. And even if that were the case, as incredible as it seems, the very existence of the pattern of these beatings seems to me to rise to the level of a hate crime.

Where does it end? And just as important: How does it end?

It’s time we look racism in the eye and call it what it is. It’s time we stand together — black, brown and white united — and speak out against racism in our community.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.