Rashed Mian

Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

Brother of Hate Crime Victim Condemns Trump in Patchogue

Trump protest Patchogue

The brother of slain Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero condemned Donald Trump’s fundraiser in Patchogue Thursday just blocks from where his brother was killed in a vicious hate crime nearly eight years ago, calling it a “slap in the face” to his community.

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Standing several yards from where his brother was fatally stabbed in 2008, a quivering and teary-eyed Joselo Lucero said his brother came to the United States seeking a better life. But instead of living out his dream, his life was taken by Joseph Conroy, a knife-wielding 17-year-old, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for manslaughter as a hate crime. Six others were convicted of lesser crimes.

“This is [not] easy for me,” a visibly emotional Joselo told about 100 people who came out for a vigil in memory of his brother. “This is a terrible day. How do you think I’m feeling with this? My mom died because of consequences with that. I don’t want something like this to ever happen. I hope—I hope this village take this message right, because for the last seven years I’ve tried to build this village, I tried to build this community, I tried to be a bridge in between my community and between the immigrants and between the local people.”

“But what [do] I have?” an anguished Joselo cried out, prompting tears from the crowd. “I have a slap in my face…Donald Trump came four blocks away. He uses the rhetoric against immigrants, he uses hate speech, he uses the power to humiliate women. Why do we allow him to do that?”

Lucero’s vigil attracted a diverse group of supporters, including several members of local clergy. The gathering was in response to Trump’s fundraiser with the Suffolk County Republican Committee at The Emporium, a local music venue. The event sparked outrage from members of the community because of Trump’s view on immigration.

There were multiple events throughout the day protesting Trump’s presence, including a demonstration about 50 yards away from The Emporium, where people chanted “Dump Trump,” “We say no to hate,” and “Long Island, united, will never be defeated!” A nearby venue also held a “Make America LOVE Again” concert that doubled as a fundraiser for a charity dedicated to Lucero.

This was Trump’s second LI appearance in as many weeks ahead of next Tuesday’s crucial presidential primary. Trump is the front-runner for the GOP nomination but he may not end up with enough votes to clinch the nomination outright, which is why the New York primary is so pivotal. Multiple polls show Trump with an insurmountable lead in New York.

There was little mention of the upcoming primary at Lucero’s vigil, however.

Joselo Lucero
Joselo Lucero, brother of hate crime victim Marcelo Lucero, called Trump’s visit in Patchogue a “slap in the face.” (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Holding a sign that blared “Stand Against Racism,” Francisco Fuentes, an artist from Central Islip, said people in the community have serious concerns with Trump’s anti-immigrant message.

“It’s very important for the whole Spanish community to let them know they’re against any message of hate and racism,” Fuentes said through a translator.

Retired Rev. Al Ramirez credited Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri and others for helping the community heal after Lucero’s slaying. But he speculated that giving Trump a platform in Patchogue could derail hard-earned progress.

“There’s been a lot of progress made,” Ramirez told the Press. “You have to give credit to Paul Pontieri; I think he’s a made tremendous effort to create unity, greater understanding, bring people together…clearly, even the police department, I believe, has taken positive steps, [but] they still have a lot of work to do.”

“If they have taken, perhaps, eight steps forward,” he added, “what has just happened, has taken them seven steps back. They’re back in the beginning.”

Speaking at a microphone, Father Ron Richardson, a retired Roman Catholic priest, reminded everyone why they had come out on this sun-splashed day.

“His life was taken from him solely because he was an immigrant,” Richardson told the crowd congregating on Railroad Avenue.

Richardson lamented the divisiveness ripping through the US today, saying his hope for a more “supportive society” has been replaced with “a hardening of our collective hearts.”

Rabbi Steven Moss of B’nai’ Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale and chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission encouraged those gathered to stand united.

A vigil set up for Marcelo Lucero at the site of his slaying. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
A vigil set up for Marcelo Lucero at the site of his slaying. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

“That piece of Earth, that concrete to my right is holy,” he said of the spot where Lucero was killed.

“Say no to violence, no to hate speech,” he added, before leading the crowd into a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”

A more spirited rally took place down the street from The Emporium with protesters carrying signs comparing Trump to Hitler and raising banners that barked “Dump Trump.”

Unlike the demonstration in Bethpage last week, Thursday’s protest did not spark confrontations between those rallying against Trump and those supportive of his cause.

Standing along a police barricade, Cynthia Roethgen of Lindenhurst said she fears Trump’s message about immigrants could inflame tension.

“Sadly, I believe that we’ve had racism dampen down in this country, it never really went away, and he’s just ignited it again,” Roethgen said. “I don’t think that’s what we need.”

Roethgen said she has recently discussed Trump’s presidential run with two people from Germany who told her they are frightened by what they hear.

“This is reaching the world,” she said, “and he’s scaring a lot of people.”

Beth Rosato, a lifelong resident of Patchogue, said the community had come a long way since Lucero’s death only to have to relive it once again thanks to Trump.

“I think it’s either extremely insensitive or its extremely manipulative, and neither one of those things is right,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face to Patchogue. All the work everyone’s done to heal from the wounds and to have him come here, it’s not right.”

Before he gave his impassioned speech to scores of supporters, Joselo said he was hoping to leave people with a positive message.

As he walked through the parking lot, various people expressed sorrow for his loss, shook his hand and gave him a hug.

“It doesn’t matter where he came from,” he told the crowd of supporters. “He was my brother, he was my life, he was my father, he was my friend.”

Hillary Vows to Address Gun Violence in Her First Long Island Campaign Stop

Hillary Clinton Long Island
Hillary Clinton surrounded by family members of victim's of gun violence during an event in Port Washington. Photo credit: By Michael Davidson for Hillary for America/Flickr

With the New York State primary only one week away, Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop in Port Washington Monday to call for tougher gun legislation and vowed to take on the National Rifle Association, which she called “the most powerful lobby in Washington.”

The Landmark Theater on Main Street hosted the Democratic front-runner’s appearance, and welcomed scores of people who waited on a long line that wrapped around the block to see the former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator from New York speak in person for her first official public event on Long Island ahead of next Tuesday’s primary. The venue was filled to capacity, with an estimated 450 people showing up to hear her.

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Joining Clinton on stage inside the intimate theater were five women who lost loved ones to gun violence, including the daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal killed in the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, as well as Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who served as the event’s moderator.

Long Islanders gave Clinton a rousing ovation when she was introduced by Israel, bouncing up from their seats to catch a glimpse of her. They found the smallest of windows to snap photos of the Democratic hopeful and they smiled broadly when she took her seat.

A young girl in the audience sounded almost breathless. “Oh my God, that’s her!” she gasped out loud. “That’s so cool!”

But the event quickly turned serious. The crowd grew silent as family members of murder victims told their heart-wrenching tales of living everyday with grief, dreams unfulfilled and lives lost.

Clinton began the afternoon with a customary appeal to local residents. “I’m happy to be here for any reason,” she said before she got to the heart of the matter.

Ninety people, she said, die each day from gun violence, which adds up to 33,000 victims annually. She put most of the blame on the NRA and less so on Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist from Vermont who is narrowly trailing her in the New York polls. During the campaign, she’s tried to draw a distinction between her position and Sanders on the gun issue. Here she did not hold back.

“What stands in the way is the most powerful lobby in Washington,” she told the audience. “None is as powerful and intimidating as the gun lobby.”

Clinton attempted to portray herself as a gun-safety crusader by contrasting her position with that of her opponent. Five times, she said, Sanders voted against the gun safety Brady Bill, and also voted in favor of a law that makes it difficult in some circumstances to sue gun manufacturers for negligence. The latter issue has picked up steam since the primary turned from Wisconsin to New York following Sanders’ now-infamous interview with the New York Daily News editorial board in which the senator said he doesn’t believe family members of Sandy Hook victims should be able to sue gun manufacturers.

Clinton proposed installing a comprehensive background check system that would allow for a lengthier period to scrutinize a potential gun buyer’s history and to close the so-called “gun show loophole.” As for the law that protects gun makers, Clinton said it was time to “reverse the gift that was given to the gun lobby.”

The far majority of the one-hour event was dedicated to the victims of gun violence.

Erica Lafferty, daughter of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, told the horrific story of her mother running to the hallway after hearing a “pop, pop, pop, pop” that she recognized as gunshots. Seconds later she and the school psychologist were gunned down.

“For too many people victims of gun violence are nothing but a number,” the distraught daughter said.

Rita Kestenbaum, a Democrat who lost her bid last year for Hempstead Town Supervisor, called for gun legislation after remarking how her slain daughter’s shooter previously hinted at suicide before turning his weapon on Carol, her friend, and then himself.

“Instead of celebrating her 20’s, I’m burying my daughter,” Kestenbaum recounted. “I no longer have a daughter.”

Another woman spoke about the heartbreak of dealing with her nephew’s shooting death, and gun-safety advocate Natasha Christopher of Queens recalled getting a call that her son was shot. He died on his 15th birthday, about two weeks later.

Until recently Christopher was an undecided voter. “But I am with her now,” she said, referring to Clinton and prompting applause.

Last to speak was Sandy Phillips, mother of Jessica Ghawi, the 24-year-old sports reporter who was killed in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater rampage that killed 11 others. She told of Ghawi’s ill-fated luck to be at the scene of another shooting just six weeks earlier at a Toronto mall food court. But Ghawi, who had a terrible feeling that something was amiss, left the cafeteria just three minutes before gunfire rang out. Two people died that day.

But there was nowhere for Ghawi to go during the midnight opening of Batman’s “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012.

“They were trapped,” her mother said. “There was nothing they could do.”

Ghawi was shot six times, once in the leg, three times in the stomach, in the clavicle, and once in the head.

Phillips brought the discussion back to Sanders by bringing up her unsuccessful attempt to sue the online seller the shooter had used to purchase 4,000 rounds of ammunition. The suit was thrown out, and the judge ordered Ghawi’s family to pay the seller $203,000 in legal fees instead.

Afterward, Phillips called Sanders, and “it did not go well,” she said.

Clinton credited the women for “putting themselves out there.”

“These are the real stories,” she said. “These are the gaps in the law.”

Clinton said claims that she wants to take away guns from law-abiding citizens is a “fantasy.”

“This is not about responsible gun owners, never has been,” Clinton said.

Several people in the audience said gun safety was an important issue that needed to be addressed.

“It’s crazy in this country that the gun lobby is able to block any sensible rules to reduce the number of gun deaths in this country,” said Robert Kleinman, 64, a financial planner from Port Washington.

“I like some of what Bernie stands for, but I just don’t think he’s got as much experience for the job as Hillary,” he added. “Hillary’s got the perfect resume; she will be a great president.”

Olga Doukas, 50, of Port Washington, said Clinton’s appearance reaffirmed her faith in Clinton to pass gun legislation.

“I feel confident now after Hillary spoke that she will do everything in her power and capabilities to pass a law to prevent the sale of guns, especially to criminals,” she said.

For Jane Dody, a retired reading teacher from Jericho, the issue of gun violence hit home.

“I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother, and I’m a teacher,” she said, “and when that young woman spoke, the daughter of the principal, it really brought me to tears.”

Dody admitted she likes Sanders’ position on several issues, but believes Clinton would be the stronger nominee.

“And,” she added, “I’d like to see a woman president.”

Elise May, an art teacher from Port Washington, said she came out for Monday’s event more for the issue of gun safety than for the candidate herself.

“It’s an issue that I find very important, and I don’t quite understand how after all these years we haven’t got the kind of laws enacted that we need enacted,” she said. “So I’d like to know how that’s going to happen.”

But May is not so sure Clinton, or any candidate for that matter, could succeed where so many others have failed.

“I don’t know how with our government and the state of our government that change can happen,” she said. “I have to believe it can.”

(Photo credit: Michael Davidson/Flickr)

Long Island Mosque Tackles Radicalization with Message of Hope

Islamic Center of Long Island
Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. (Photo credit: Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

In what could be considered a call to action for Long Island Muslims, a prominent Imam from Egypt on Friday encouraged the congregation at a Westbury mosque to rise above the challenges facing the community amid a rise of both Islamophobia and extremism.

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“We know as good practicing Muslims we should not bury our heads in the sand,” Sheikh Ibrahim Negm, visiting scholar from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, told the congregation at the Islamic Center of Long Island during his sermon on Friday. “Rather, we should rise to meet the difficult challenges we are facing.”

Negm, an advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, has headlined a three-day lecture series at the ICLI this week that concludes Saturday night.

Titled “Upholding Moderation & Resisting Radicalization,” the series hopes to reach out to young people and anyone else in the community disheartened by anti-Muslim rhetoric whipping through the media and American politics.

The ICLI, which last year launched an interfaith institute, has spearheaded efforts to address Islamophobia with educational services and events that focus on religious solidarity. The mosque has also been instrumental in addressing misconceptions about the religion and has vocally condemned attacks by bloodthirsty extremists groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Muslims are often criticized for not doing enough to impede a person’s path toward radicalization. The ICLI is taking the proactive step of addressing the issue by empowering those within the community.

In an interview, Negm said the purpose of his sermon was to present a framework that the community can use to be more involved. He admitted that he does not have all the answers.

As someone who does not live in the community, Negm said, “I cannot suggest practical steps” but rather a “framework” that will guide congregants forward.

“We are facing…whether we are talking about this part of the world or globally, we are facing imminent challenges as Muslims,” Negm told the packed mosque.

He reminded Islam’s adherents that such speed bumps are ingrained in the religion—tests that every Muslim must confront.

“We shall be visited with trial and tribulations,” Negm said, citing the Koran. He added, “Life on this planet Earth is a testing ground.”

It’s normal for people to feel anguish over Islamophobic remarks, but it’s important not to fall into a state of despair, Negm explained.

“Don’t get overwhelmed by what we are going through,” he added.

Negm stopped short of instructing the community about how to act as a collective voice, opting instead to inspire change on a local level.

“Are we doing the homework or are we just passing the buck?” he asked, rhetorically. “We should take ownership of the situation we are experiencing and see what we can do.”

The third and final installment of the ICLI’s “Upholding Moderation & Resisting Radicalization” series is Saturday at 7:15 p.m. 835 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury.

Long Island Protesters Condemn ‘Fascist’ Donald Trump’s Hate-Filled Campaign


16-year-old Muslim American girl who frequently gets taunted for her religious beliefs. A son of Mexican immigrants who’s been discriminated against all his life. A father of two who has never attended a protest before but wanted to introduce his kids to the political process.

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These were some of the diverse faces of the several hundred protestors who demonstrated outside GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s rally at Grumman Studios in Bethpage Wednesday night.

Standing for several hours just beyond the entrance to Trump’s much-ballyhooed campaign stop, incensed protesters waved signs amid bone-chilling temperatures, decrying what many perceive to be Islamophobic, racist and misogynistic comments from the delegate-leading Republican hopeful.

“No more room for hate, America is great!” protesters chanted from where they were sequestered, as pro-Trump Long Islanders made their way to the rally one day after their top pick for the White House suffered a brutal defeat to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) in Wisconsin.

“Trump’s a fascist!” they screamed in a rhythm that mimicked a “Let’s Go Yankees!” chant.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, hateful Trump has got to go!” the bundled bodies billowed as the evening sky melted to black.

Protesters began huddling around 4 p.m., occupying a space across the street from Grumman Studios’ entrance dubbed the “Free Speech Zone” by local law enforcement authorities, which attracted an odd mix of pro-Trump followers and his many detractors. Some business savvy supporters sold Trump apparel—hats, shirts, and buttons—beside a food truck vendor advertising Halal meat.

Busloads of Trump supporters responded to some of the jeers with a flash of their middle finger—a greeting even some children riding on board took part in.

The protest was mostly peaceful until a large group of Trump fans who had failed to enter the Grumman Studios because the venue was at full capacity started a counter-protest that prompted an hours-long standoff under the watchful eye of Nassau County police officers in riot gear and cops mounted on horseback.

Donald Trump Rally Long Island
Nassau County police officers in riot gear stand between Donald Trump protesters and the GOP frontrunner’s fans.

In order to maintain the peace, officers separated the rival groups, prompting chants of “Build that wall!” from Trump supporters, who ironically were the ones being blocked off.

The Trump group yelled “White Lives Matter,!” recommended that protesters “Get a job,” and chanted, “Leave this country!”

They also took on the two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, was dubbed a “Communist,” and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, was chided for perceived lies she supposedly spewed.

“We do our jobs, we come home, we want to watch some Netflix and binge on some brownies.”

When a Trump supporter condemned Clinton for her untruths, someone on the other side of the rally responded, “Fuck you, we don’t like her, either.”

At one point, both sides engaged in dueling “U-S-A” chants, as if to demonstrate one side was more patriotic than the other.

So went the first anti-Trump demonstration on Long Island in 2016: High school insults were traded, bravado did not manifest into much of substance, and demonstrators chanted until their vocal chords gave out.

Aside from the broadsides exchanged by both sides, protester after protester said they had deep misgivings with the GOP favorite and were uncomfortable with some of his remarks he’s made on the campaign trail about Muslims, Mexicans and women.

Mahira Siddiqi, a mother of three from Hicksville, felt compelled to attend Wednesday’s rally because of rampant Islamophobia careening through the media.

“I think a lot of the people who are out here don’t really know any Muslims that closely, and I think if they took the time to talk to some of us they would realize that we’re just like them,” Siddiqi told the Press.

“We do our jobs, we come home, we want to watch some Netflix and binge on some brownies,” she added. “And we want to raise our kids in a peaceful society, and we want our kids to have the same opportunities that we did. And for most of us, we were born here, so this is home. This is it.”

Siddiqi lamented that both her 11- and 8-year-old are old enough to understand to some degree that anti-Islam sentiment is roiling America today.

She said she tries to shield them from the rhetoric because “it just hurts my heart for them to have to feel that.” But she felt compelled to take her place in Bethpage.

“Because the level of hate has just gotten so much, it’s become necessary for people who maybe normally would not go out and be activists to do so,” she said.

Long Island Donald Trump rally
A business-savy Long Islander selling Donald Trump apparel outside his rally in Bethpage. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

As if on cue, Jeff Zilberstein, 42, of East Islip was sauntering around the barricaded area with his 7-year-old daughter perched atop his shoulders.

It was the first time Zilberstein ever attended a protest. He decided to make it a family affair, bringing along his wife and two kids.

“I think that they need to understand what the political process is all about. I’ve never done this before,” Zilberstein said. “You can agree to disagree about a lot of things, but I have a hard time agreeing to disagree about Trump.”

To him, the bombastic reality TV star and businessman’s being in the race “was a joke to begin with—and he’s not a joke anymore,” he said.

Benjetta Miller of Bay Shore was standing under a tree holding a “Stand Against Islamophobia” sign.

Miller, a Sanders supporter who is not eligible to vote in the state’s April 19 primary because New York’s closed primary rules don’t allow registered Independents to cast a ballot, said she’d vote for Clinton in the general election if it came down to it.

“There’s just no room in our country, in our government, for a Donald Trump,” she said.

The Ahmed family from Woodmere would agree.

Sarfaraz Ahmed, his wife and daughter, Yursa, decided to attend the rally to protest what they consider racist remarks espoused by Trump, and because their family has been the victim of Islamophobic comments.

“Our kids go to school, and they’ve been harassed. They’ve been called names because we wear different clothes,” said Sarafarz, adding that his children have been branded “terrorists” by bullies.

“We are here for 40 years—my brother came [in] 1973,” added the Pakistani immigrant. “All the kids were born here. Grew up here. Went to school here.”

His 16-year-old daughter Yursa, who attends private school, expressed her disappointment that people would judge an entire religion based on the acts of a select few.

“It’s like a classroom. When one kid messes up, the whole class doesn’t have recess,” said Yursa, who has been taunted by people when she goes into New York City. “Why do we have to suffer if someone else messed up?”

Long Island Donald Trump rally
The Ahmed family from Woodmere lamented anti-Muslim sentiment in America today. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Muslims aren’t the only ones who felt compelled to speak out.

“The reason I feel like joining is because a lot of people of my skin complexion would rather hold their silence than stand up and let their voices be heard,” said 22-year-old Key Martinez of North Bellmore. “I’m not an illegal immigrant, but my family are, so I’m here for them.”

Martinez has specifically objected to Trump’s proposal to have Mexico build a wall to prevent people crossing America’s southern border.

If his family hadn’t come more than 25 years ago, he’d never have the opportunities now offered to him.

“I’ve been discriminated all of my life,” said Martinez, who attends Nassau Community College where he also works. “This is the first time I get to stand up for that.”

Martinez summed up what many other people in the crowd said they have been feeling as they’ve watched Trump tour the country while promising to make America great by banning Muslims, putting the Muslims that are here in databases, keeping Mexicans out, punishing women for abortions if they’re deemed illegal (before he backtracked), and lessening America’s role militarily by suggesting countries like Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear bombs to defend themselves.

“He is prejudice,” Martinez said, “and there’s no way of denying that.”

Cuomo Signs New York $15 Minimum Wage Bill

NY $15 Minimum Wage
Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a rally at Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan Monday, April 4 to celebrate historic $15 minimum wage hike. (Photo credit: Don Pollard/ New York Governor's Office)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday declared victory in the fight for a $15 minimum wage with a congratulatory rally in Manhattan that also served as a campaign stop for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

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A smiling Cuomo, who made the $15 minimum wage hike a top priority of his 2016 agenda, told the partisan crowd at Jacob Javits Center that the new pay bump, included in this year’s state budget, would “restore economic fairness” and help rebuild a fractured middle class.

“We defined the problem,” Cuomo said. “We explained the unfairness, and the people of the state of New York responded because the people of this state demand fairness and demand justice.”

Joining Cuomo on stage was Clinton, the former secretary of state and twice-elected New York Senator. Clinton didn’t shy away from using the governor’s legislative achievement to attack GOP frontrunner Donald Trump even though she’s still entrenched in a primary battle of her own against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist.

New York’s wage hike won’t go into effect immediately. The plan calls for Nassau and Suffolk counties to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour by the end of 2016, followed by a $1 hike in pay each year until the $15 cap is reached by 2021. New York City businesses would raise their hourly wage to $15 by the end of 2018. Small business owners and industries operating in other regions of the state will separately be required to raise wages incrementally over a four-year period.

The uneven rollout may be complicated, but it was intended to give anxious business owners time to adjust before they become mandated to pay the legal $15 minimum. The new law, however, does not include tipped workers.

Before its recent passage, Cuomo spent considerable time on the road to build a formidable coalition to support the bill. For a brief period, the governor’s strategy included campaign-style rallies in which he toured the state in a ostentatious red-and-blue RV.

“It was the labor movement that built this nation’s middle class in the first place and we’re rebuilding the middle class for a new economy today,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s back-patting speech also included some presidential campaign undertones, taking veiled shots at Trump without mentioning the bombastic reality TV star and billionaire businessman by name.

“I’ll tell you what we did not do in New York,” Cuomo said. “We didn’t take the anger, and we didn’t fan the flames of the anger, and we didn’t use the anger politically. And some voices out there want to do just that: they want to take that anger, and they want to use it politically. They want to use it as a way to turn us against each other.”

Clinton, who has been campaigning in New York in advance of the state’s April 19 presidential primary, called the $15 wage hike a “real watershed.”

During her campaign, Clinton has advocated for a $12 federal minimum wage but said she supports local governments that pass their own pay hikes. On Monday, the former two-term U.S. Senator predicted that New York’s achievement would be far-reaching. “I know it’s going to sweep our country,” she said. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has called on the federal government to raise the minimum wage to $15.

President Obama released a statement Monday commending lawmakers in New York for their efforts while issuing a long-shot plea for Congress to follow their lead.

“This action means more parents won’t have to choose between their job and caring for their new children,” Obama said. “It means more workers can earn a higher wage to help make ends meet.”

The agreement by New York lawmakers came less than a week after California became the first state in the country to approve a $15 minimum wage hike.

Cuomo also signed into law a 12-week paid family leave bill that will go into effect in 2018 and will include both part-time and full-time employees.

(Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a rally at Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan Monday, April 4 to celebrate historic $15 minimum wage hike. Photo credit: Don Pollard/ New York Governor’s Office)

‘Eye in the Sky’ Forces Us to See the Human Toll of Drone Warfare

In what was mostly a spellbinding portrayal of the cost of drone warfare in the 21st century, there were moments in Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” that you couldn’t help but wonder if the director was engaging in cheeky satire as one British bureaucrat after another anguished over a decision to kill terrorists in a drone strike on Kenya that would also serve as a likely death sentence for an innocent girl selling bread outside their hideout.

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From the United Kingdom’s attorney general to the foreign minister, those civilians entrusted to make critical military decisions chose instead to “refer up”—meaning pass the buck so the next person in line would have to live with the consequences. The term was so widely used that it was tough not to snicker even though the stakes were so high.

The only people totally committed to bombing a house in Nairobi to take out three high-level terrorists—two UK citizens and one American—seemingly planning a suicide bombing were Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) and General Benson (the late Alan Rickman).

The decision facing England’s elected officials in “Eye in the Sky” is whether or not to approve the drone strike after it became clear that capturing the subjects in unfriendly territory would be nearly impossible.

Those advocating for the strike were operating under the impression that the loss of one life—the young girl selling bread—is easier to live with than risking dozens of lives if the terror subjects were successful in carrying out an attack.

On the flip side, as the British attorney general noted, the UK would look like the villains if it ever emerged that the government went ahead with the missile strike even though they knew the young girl’s life was in jeopardy. Indeed, the military had no idea where the al Shabaab terrorists were planning to strike, but they did not want to live through another Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi, which left 67 people dead in 2013.

If this is how officials decide whether to bomb alleged terrorists in undeclared war zones like Kenya, then perhaps controversial assassinations—or “targeted killings”—from unmanned, remote-piloted aircrafts aren’t getting the level of scrutiny they deserve.

And maybe that’s the point “Eye in the Sky” endeavors to make. Not that drone strikes are immoral or incredibly effective, depending on how you see it, but that the program itself is flawed because protocols governing use of this nascent technology are not yet firmly in place. Sure, it’s easy to compel a pilot to pull the trigger on people you are 100-percent sure are the bad guys, but what happens when innocent lives are caught in the crossfire or you’re unsure if the people you’re targeting are truly terrorists? Who should be the one to make that decision? And if the intelligence is faulty or incomplete, should a deadly strike even be up for consideration?

At home, the debate has been raging for years over how the United States conducts drone attacks and whether the risk of collateral damage is too great. Many of the drone strikes operated by the US take place in countries where we’re not at war, like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which heightens civilian exposure. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drone strikes have killed somewhere between 423 and 965 civilians in Pakistan since 2004. It’s difficult to ascertain the exact civilian death toll because such stats are kept secret.

“Eye in the Sky” also addresses the strain drone attacks put on US Air Force pilots operating out of a military base in Las Vegas.

Drone warfare has for years been compared to video games, in which soldiers in America remotely pilot drones over the skies of Africa and the Middle East. If the decision is made to strike a target, the operator presses the appropriate button and watches the target explode. Through the lens of the drone, the pilots can see the destruction the missile has reaped, but the aftermath is inaudible. The pilot won’t hear cries of family members or catch a whiff of smoldering flesh. They follow targets with deft precision, strike a building or a vehicle if need be, ascertain whether the target was killed, and return the aircraft to a nearby base.

Aaron Paul, who gives a searing portrayal of a US Air Force pilot/drone operator named Steve Watts, is at the controls of the drone hovering over Nairobi, and he poignantly captures the emotional tug-of-war that the more hardened generals have so effectively repressed. When Paul offers a heart-warming smirk as he sees the little girl playing with a hula-hoop in her backyard, it’s as if he’s standing right beside her. But those tear-jerking moments are fleeting, because it becomes apparent to us that the people inside the house are preparing for a bloody attack.

It’s difficult to leave this suspenseful film and not wonder out loud, “What would you do?” But perhaps the more pressing issue facing world leaders is whether it has become so easy to kill with a remote control that we’ve all forgotten the human cost of war?

(Featured photo credit: Bleeker Street Media/Eye in the Sky)

NYC School Guidance Counselor, Union Rep Pleads Guilty to Trading Child Porn

A 43-year-old Valley Stream man who served as a New York City school guidance counselor and teacher’s union representative admitted Tuesday to exchanging child porn over the Internet, federal authorities announced.

John Capuano pleaded guilty to transportation of child pornography in interstate and foreign commerce before US Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown at federal court in Central Islip. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

“This crime was particularly egregious in that Capuano was a school guidance counselor entrusted with ensuring the safety and well-being of children while he at the same time was victimizing them by distributing images of child pornography,” Robert Capers, US Attorney for the Easter District of New York, said in a statement.

Capuano’s guilty plea stems from an undercover investigation last April in which authorities discovered that child porn involving kids as young as three years old had been posted to a chat room by Capuano. Investigators traced the information to Capuano, and a search warrant was executed at his Valley Stream home on May 28, 2015.

It was during that search that authorities said Capuano admitted to trading child porn through an app on at least two devices, one of which was used for teacher’s union business, authorities said.

Capuano has been in federal custody ever since his arrest last year.

Prosecutors did not announce a sentencing date.

Cops: Deer Park Man Fired Gun at Homes, Cars

A 25-year-old Deer Park man was arrested for firing a handgun at several homes and vehicles in his hometown earlier this month, Suffolk County police said.

Cameron Cincotta was charged with three counts of criminal mischief and three counts of reckless endangerment.

Police have accused Cincotta of firing a .45-caliber handgun at two homes on Fairview Avenue and one on Oakland Avenue on March 19. All three homes were occupied at the time of the shootings, police said.

On the same day, Cincotta allegedly fired at parked vehicles on Fairview Avenue, West 20th Street and West 16th Street, police said.

The gun used in the alleged shootings was recovered, police said.

Levittown Man Killed in Crash with Tractor Trailer on LIE, Cops Say

A 37-year-old Levittown man was killed Monday morning on the Long Island Expressway, Nassau County police said.

Oscar Reyes-Contereras lost control of his 2007 Ford Mustang near exit 45 in Plainvew at 7:45 a.m. His car caromed off a guardrail and was struck by a tractor trailer, police said.

Reyes-Contereras was pronounced dead at a local hospital about an hour after the crash, police said.

Police did not say if the 45-year-old driver of the tractor trailer suffered any injuries. The transport truck passed a brake-and-safety inspection at the scene, police said.

There is no criminality suspected at this time, according to police.

Central Islip Woman, 28, Killed in Crash, Cops Say

A 28-year-old Central Islip woman died in a single-car crash on the Southern State Parkway early Sunday morning, New York State police said.

The victim, Stephanie Francois, was driving a 2010 Chevrolet westbound at 12:35 a.m. near exit 25N when the crash occurred, police said.

Authorities said in a news release that Francois was approaching the Newbridge Road exit at “a high rate of speed” when she lost control of the vehicle, which overturned on the north shoulder.

Francois was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

The investigation into the accident is ongoing, police said.

hofstra transfer day today