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Riverhead restarts anti-bias task force

Riverhead, N.Y., is restarting its anti-bias task force in order to address a string of violent robberies against Latinos in the town.

Since its inception in 2007, Riverhead's anti-bias task force has met no more than a few times. But town officials and advocates for minorities say the group plans a public meeting later this month in order to discuss what they call a pattern of assaults and robberies directed at Latinos.

Riverhead police say they do not collect statistics on whether a victim is Hispanic or not. Anecdotally, however, officials and advocates say about a dozen Latino men have been assaulted and robbed over the last two months, some of them so brutally that long hospital stays were required.

"I think one of the biggest problems is a lot of Spanish people carry cash with them," said Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy, who helped organize the resurrection of the task force. "People know about that and they attack them at night and take their money."

Dunleavy says that even though most of the attacks appear to be motivated out of opportunity and not hate, the anti-bias task force will meet in order to educate Latinos on preventing these crimes.

Advocates, however, say the meeting will be a opportunity for Latinos to educate police.

"There hasn't been a vehicle where people could come forward and say, 'this happened to me and I need support. I need investigations,'" said Sister Margaret Smyth, director of the North Fork Spanish Apostle, which works closely with migrants from Central and South America.

The attacks have coincided with the distribution of recruiting pamphlets for the Ku Klux Klan in nearby Hampton Bays.  Also, last month, a Latino rights group suggested an unsolved murder could be related to a resurgence of the KKK.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.
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