Documenting Hate Crimes and Lighting the Road to Healing 

Community portrait on the two-year anniversary of Marcelo Lucero's death
Photo credit: Jackson Hill Photography

Not in Our Town: Light in the Darkness documents the story of residents of Patchogue, Long Island, who took action after a series of anti-immigrant attacks by local teenagers ended with the killing of local immigrant Marcelo Lucero. Produced by the Working Group/Not in Our Town (NIOT), the film has a two-pronged life: Light in the Darkness premiered on PBS TV on September 21, 2011. For those who missed it, it can be seen in streaming video online at

Like all of NIOT’s work, the film serves as a catalyst for real-time dialogue. While starkly revealing the trauma of hate, the film also provides a blueprint for people like the residents of Patchogue who want to do something before intolerance in their community turns to violence. During the recent Not in Our Town National Week of Action (September 18–24, 2011), communities throughout the country hosted screenings, events, and discussions on hate crime prevention and finding new ways to make their towns safer. The film continues to serve as a springboard for community meetings on how to address and prevent acts of violence spurred by racial and religious intolerance.

Developed by the Working Group in 1995, NIOT first produced a PBS documentary that told the story of how people in Billings, Montana, coalesced to respond to hate crimes in their community. The story resonated with audiences around the country, inspiring viewers to hold their own campaigns against intolerance. NIOT has grown into a national effort to connect people engaged in actions to address hatred and create safe and tolerant communities.

"Healing Hands, Mending Hearts" Quilt by The Piece-makers for Peace
Photo credit: Jackson Hill Photography

Creative Process

In 2008, a series of attacks by seven local teenagers on Latino residents of Patchogue, Long Island, ended with the teenagers killing a 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant. Over the next two years, filmmakers from the Working Group followed the victim’s brother, Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri, community leaders, residents, and students as they dealt with the killing’s underlying causes and worked to repair discord and mistrust. By telling the story of one anti-immigrant attack, Light in the Darkness shows how communities can address intolerance before it reaches such a tragic end. 

The documentary’s distribution follows NIOT’s philosophy, a process that fuses creative filmmaking with social justice action, with serving as an extensive resource hub for individuals, communities, and schools seeking ways to address hate and intolerance.

The website is home to nearly 70 short films, an interactive map that tracks hate crimes as well as community efforts against them, and an action kit with local lessons and model activities that employ NIOT’s tactic of engaging key stakeholders—those with authority and power, as well as those being targeted for violence.


Diverse audiences around the country were brought together to discuss Light In the Darkness and use it as a starting point for conversations about local issues.

(Students at South Ocean Middle School listen to Joselo Lucero speak on the anniversary of his brother Marcelo’s death.) 

Using NIOT’s tactic to engage key stakeholders, a broad range of community events have resulted in diverse audiences having an opportunity to discuss and problem-solve to design and implement measures to prevent future violence.

Convenings included:

Birmingham, Alabama: A public screening was hosted by the local office of the FBI at the Birmingham International Center, in which news staff from a local paper—the Leeds Herald—joined with residents as well as business, religious, community, and organization leaders to discuss local issues and social justice concerns related to those raised in the film.

In Redlands, California, Lt. Travis Martinez, chief of community policing and liaison to the city’s Human Relations Commission, spearheaded a local screening, followed by a discussion moderated by Professor Keith Osajima of the Race and Ethnic Studies Program at the University of Redlands. Racial tensions do flare up in Redlands, occasionally resulting in hate crimes, such as the still-unresolved  homicide two blackteens. “This is the police department’s way of being proactive, of preventing and reducing hate crimes,” Martinez said of the screening.

Cross-border screenings in El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico, sponsored by the University of Texas at El Paso provided opportunities to discuss the local impact of heightened border control and an increase in gang-related violence. With the help of UTEP’s Student Association of Social Workers, Kathryn Schmidt, a professor in the Department of Social Work, hosted a screening at UT El Paso, followed by a panel discussion led by State Senator Eliot Shapleigh, and a separate screening was held in Juarez at Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez