That sentiment was present in the crowd too. Before Tabacco’s speech, as cigar smoke wafted across the street and a radio station blared ‘80’s and ‘90’s country music over the speakers, protesters mingled, wearing Trump hats and holding signs saying things like “Protect Our Children” and “Get Out of My Country.” “Bottom line, is that they don’t belong here,” one woman told her friend.
The organizers wanted to send a deafening message to their new neighbors: “You’re not welcome here.”
“They’re unvetted, how do you know they’re not pedophiles?” Debbie Lobaito, 69, told VICE News at the protest on Thursday. “We’ve been noticing some of the women have been getting picked up here and dropped off later in the evening, so we’re saying it could be prostitution. You know, they have to pay the cartels back for getting them in.”Retired NYPD commander Tony D, who wouldn’t give his last name, claimed without evidence that the asylum seekers being housed in the school were not women, but are all “military-aged men.” “What are you going to do with military-aged males across the street from females?” said Tony D. “That’s just biology.” He added, also without evidence, that burglaries and car thefts on Staten Island were “up,” but couldn’t point to any evidence indicating a correlation between his new neighbors, who have arrived in the past month, and rising crime rates. “These people, they’re gonna turn on us,” said Steve, 39, wearing a red shell suit and yellow-tinted glasses. “Because that’s their MO. That’s what they do. They’re gonna turn on us and they’re gonna take over.” (Steve’s paranoia on Thursday night wasn’t only directed towards the asylum seekers in the former school: he also accused several reporters present of being “antifa.”)
Organizers of the Staten Island protesters are drumming up nativist fears of the “other” and telling residents that they’re under invasion.
One recent poll found that the majority of New Yorkers believe the new arrivals are simply seeking a better life and think that the economy will benefit in the long-run.