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Civil Rights Groups Denounce Hate Crimes Against Hispanics

U.S. civil rights group are expressing outrage at what police say was a hate crime committed near New York City two weeks ago when a group of teenagers beat and stabbed to death an immigrant from Ecuador.

Five national civil rights organizations held a joint news conference in Washington on Monday to denounce what they describe as an increase in hate crimes against Hispanic immigrants in the United States. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine has the story from Washington.

Marcelo Lucero came to the United States from Ecuador 16 years ago and worked at a dry cleaners in New York. On November 8, he was walking with a friend when he was surrounded and taunted with racial slurs by seven teenagers. His friend fled. The youths allegedly beat Lucero. Police say one of the teenagers stabbed Lucero in the chest, killing him.

New York prosecutors say the teenagers regularly got together to hunt down and hurt Hispanic men for fun. A 17-year-old from the group has been charged with murder. The other six have been charged with gang assault and hate crimes. All seven have pleaded not guilty.

The crime has unleashed outrage, with New Yorkers gathering several days later for a rally to protest the violence.

Here in Washington on Monday, a number of prominent civil rights leaders held a news conference to call attention to the crime and incidents of hate speech in the United States.

Civil rights leaders say the election of Barack Obama, who soon will be the nation's first African American president, sends a positive message about the progress that has been made in race relations. However, they say the election does not mean that racial problems have been resolved as the recent killing in New York illustrates.

Janet Murguia is President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the largest civil rights and advocacy group for Hispanics in the United States. She called the brutal murder of Marcelo Lucero a "wake up call for America".

"Thankfully, hate did not win in this election," said Janet Murguia. "But unfortunately, hate still permeates in our society."

FBI statistics show that attacks on Hispanics increased by more than 40 percent from 2003 to 2007. Experts says the increase might even be larger because many Hispanics who are in the country illegally shy away from going to the police to report crimes for fear of being deported. Civil rights advocates say some elected officials and talk radio and television hosts share part of the blame for creating a hostile climate by using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League, an organization dedicated to increasing opportunities for African Americans and other ethnic minorities. He says all of the nation's civil rights groups are standing together to try to put an end to the hate crimes.

"We are unified in saying that whether that hate crime is directed at an African immigrant or a member of the Latino community or an African American, someone who is Asian or Jewish or Arab, it is the very same thing - it is a hate crime," said Marc Morial.

Advocates say hate speech and hate mongering on the Internet has increased dramatically since Barack Obama was elected earlier this month. Some experts say it could be a backlash against what many view as a huge step forward for the country in overcoming racial prejudice and bigotry.