Saturday, September 6, 2008

Murdering Mexicans in the Heartland: The Consequences of Anti-Immigrant Racism

Michael Weiner (aka, Michael Savage), Doug McIntyre, Neal Boortz, et al., as well as other advocates of hating Mexican immigrants never have to collect the bill for their inflamed racism. This is because hating Mexican immigrants, like being a police officer in this country, means never having to be held accountable for your actions.

A couple of months ago, four (with the recent arrest) white teenagers targeted Luiz Ramirez because of his ancestry and beat him to death. Not surprisingly, there are many supporters of the teens (all of them white, of course), who see it as their right to terrorize and kill Mexicans. After all, it is about "illegal immigration," the white code word for beating, killing, and expelling Latino immigrants from this country. This includes Hazelton, PA., Mayor Barletta, who set the tone for this murder by pushing through the passage of a local ordinance that targeted Mexican immigrants, which was later overturned by the courts.

Mexican’s Death Bares a Town’s Ethnic Tension

by Sean D. Hamill

SHENANDOAH, Pa. — Crystal Dillman knows that four teenagers have been charged in the death of her fiancé, Luis Ramirez, that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is monitoring the case and that most people in this small town in the Appalachian Mountains believe it was a horrible crime.

But Ms. Dillman, the mother of Mr. Ramirez’s two young children, is not sure justice will prevail.

“I think they might get off,” she said of the four teenagers, “because Luis was an illegal Mexican and these are ‘all-American boys’ on the football team who get good grades, or whatever they’re saying about them. They’ll find some way to let them go.”

The case has raised similar concerns among Latinos across the country.

“For many Latinos, this is a case of enough is enough,” said Gladys Limón, a staff lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “And it can help us get attention to the wider issue that this is happening all over the country, not just to illegal immigrants, but legal, and anyone who is perceived to be Latino.”

Mr. Ramirez, 25, who had been in the country illegally for six years, picking crops and working in factories, died July 14 from head injuries received two days earlier.

Investigators said he had gotten into a fight with a group of teenage boys — most or all of them members of the town’s high school football team, the Blue Devils — who left him unconscious in a residential street, foaming at the mouth.

Exactly what happened during the fight is still hotly debated on Internet message boards in Shendoh, as the town is called, with some saying it was just a street fight that went bad, and others claiming the teenagers singled out a Mexican immigrant for a beating and made anti-Mexican remarks.

Since Mr. Ramirez’s death, this town of 5,600 has been bitterly divided over the case, illuminating ethnic tensions that surprised town leaders.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘We don’t want to send our kids back to school because we’re afraid people don’t like Mexicans,’ ” Mayor Thomas O’Neill said. “That’s shocking to me. That is not the Shenandoah I know.”

Prosecutors have charged Brandon Piekarski, 16, and Collin Walsh, 17, with homicide, ethnic intimidation and other counts in adult court, though their lawyers are trying to have the case moved to juvenile court.

Derrick Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other counts, including providing liquor to the other boys on the night of the confrontation. All were members of the football team; Mr. Donchak was its starting quarterback.

A 17-year-old, whose name has not been released, was charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other charges.

They have all pleaded not guilty.

After anthracite coal was discovered near the town in the late 1800s, immigrants poured in, mainly from Europe. The hamlet grew to a borough of 25,000 before the mines started to close. The immigrant groups largely got along, but they also felt the need to ethnically divide not just their churches — some of which are still considered “the Italian church” or “the Irish church” — but also the town’s volunteer fire companies.

The town’s biggest festival every year is Heritage Days near the end of August, when the major ethnic groups, among them the Lithuanians, Irish, Italians, Greeks and, more recently, Mexicans, put floats in a parade and sell ethnic food from booths.

Mr. Ramirez’s death has also reignited a regional debate over immigration that began two years ago when the town of Hazleton, about 20 miles from Shenandoah, enacted an ordinance that sought to discourage people from hiring or renting to illegal immigrants.

At the time, Shenandoah, whose Hispanic population has grown to about 10 percent, from 2.8 percent in 2000, considered a similar ordinance but held off after Hazleton was sued.

Even then, there were signs of tension. After the debate over the Hazleton ordinance, Shenandoah’s Mexican community pulled out of Heritage Days in 2006.

“They just didn’t feel comfortable then,” said Flor Gomez, whose family runs a Mexican restaurant in town.

Many people believe the debate fueled by Hazleton’s actions helped create the environment that led to Mr. Ramirez’s death.

“Clearly there were a lot of factors here,” said Ms. Limón, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has been helping Ms. Dillman. “But I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos.”

Hazleton’s mayor, Lou Barletta, said he saw no connection to his town’s ordinance, which was scrapped after the town lost a court battle.

“It’s a tragedy what happened to that man,” Mr. Barletta said. “But I don’t believe our ordinance had anything to do with it. Every person is responsible for their own actions.”

James P. Goodman, the Schuylkill County district attorney, who is prosecuting the case, said ethnic intimidation cases were rare in his county.

But town leaders have now heard about a number of incidents from Mexican residents that were never reported. The town is trying to reach out to them, said Mayor O’Neill, who said he still could not believe the fear some residents had expressed to him.

“How it came to that point, I don’t know,” he said. “But maybe these are things that it is good that it came out.”


Least any of you think I am too harsh on those who exploit anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican racism, here is but a small sample of the litany of the kind of bigotry you are likely to hear on your radio on any given day (taken from my previous post about anti-Mexican/anti-immigrant sentiments in this country).

Here is right-wing radio host Michael Savage:

"If I were more than one man--and I'm not, I'm only a radio host --I would organize a march this week where we would burn Mexican flags in the street. Then I would like to see how our hard-working brethren would react, our friends from the south. Let's see how they would react."

“If you study the history of human evolution, and I realize this is quite a jump, you will see that throughout history there were various species that arrived on planet Earth prior to homo sapiens, current man, modern man. And as one group came along, it displaced the previous group. We, the people, are being displaced by the people of Mexico. This is an invasion by any other name.”

“Twenty-nine percent of all inmates in federal prisons are illegal aliens. No, Mr. Bush, they do not all come here to work, they do not all come here to work. They come here to work the system, sell drugs, rape, and kill on contract.”

Here is talk show host Doug McIntyre about a Mexican-American school in Los Angeles that he took exception to.

“[The administrator wants to] keep his school, his madrasa school, open so they can train the next generation of Aztec revolutionaries. Again, I want to make sure that we emphasize this: This school should close.”

“Aztecs butchered and ate Spanish invaders. I wonder if they're teaching that at ASDP.”

Here is radio host Brian James advocating the murder of Mexican immigrants who cross the border.

“What we'll do is randomly pick one night every week where we will kill whoever crosses the border,” James said in the March 8 broadcast. “Step over there and you die. You get to decide whether it's your lucky night or not. I think that would be more fun.”

He said he would be “happy to sit there with my high-powered rifle and my night scope” and kill people as the cross the border. He also suggested that the National Guard shoot illegal immigrants and receive “$100 a head.”

Here is conservative talk show host Neal Boortz advocating the nuclear intoxication of Mexico.

“I already have received at least one brilliant email today about the immigration problem, because apparently out on the West Coast they're having a problem -- they're having some demonstrations over the disposal of nuclear waste. You know how the left loves to -- 'Ah, you're poisoning.' This person sent me an email, said when -- when we defeat this illegal alien amnesty bill and when we yank out the welcome mat and they all start going back to Mexico, as a going-away gift let's all give them a box of nuclear waste. Give 'em all a little nuclear waste and let 'em take it on down there to Mexico. Tell 'em it can -- it'll heat tortillas. Or something like that.”

“You see, folks, you need to take a problem like this, and you can combine several problems and come up with solutions just by combining them, can't you? I love it. I love it. OK, go home. Here is a lovely parting gift. A home tortilla warmer. Yeah, ‘Media Myrmidons’ will have that one by tomorrow.”

“I mean, it's clear. There is no intent to shut the border down. None. If there was, they [Congress] would do what the American people want them to do: pass a law, appropriate the money, and fund it -- to build a double fence along the Mexican border, and stop the damn invasion. I don't care if Mexicans pile up against that fence like tumbleweeds in the Santa Ana winds in Southern California. Let 'em. You know, then just run a couple of taco trucks up and down the line, and somebody's gonna be a millionaire out of that. But there's no intent in this -- what, taco truck -- OK -- I gotta -- I gotta tell you why that's a -- back in a moment.”

RIP, Luis. You truly deserved a country that respected you.


White Trash Academic said...

I was just reading about this case yesterday. Having spent 4 years in PA, while growing up in the South, I found the level of organized hate activity in PA disturbing, and this is coming from a southerner.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has an interactive hate group map on their website. There are a couple of states (PA and NJ) that rival many of the southern states in their number of hate groups.

TA said...

I cannot say that I'm surprised. In my hometown (granted, a big city in a state right next door to PA), there has been a large influx of Mexican and Somali immigrants (many of them moving into my old neighborhood), and the response has been less than sanguine. I think with regards to immigration, it is a national fear of anti-immigrant whites (the honest ones who will admit it) about the coming demographic change. And it has nothing to do with illegal immigration, either. You never see rallies against illegal immigrants from Ireland, even though there are tens of thousands of them in this country. If there were several million British people living in the US illegally, I doubt those same forces would bat an eye. It is because of the race of the immigrants that people care, which is the reason Mr. Ramirez lost his life. Sad.

White Trash Academic said...

Very sad. Funny that you mentioned Ireland. In the 1800s in PA, the Irish (due to mass influx) were subject to discrimination and many store owners had signs in the window that said "Irish need not apply." You might be familiar with the infamous Molly McGuire case...If find it interesting that although the immigrant groups vary over time the "song remains the same."

TA said...

Yes, the Molly Maguires were infamous (and amongst the miners in my family [from eastern Ohio] seen as heroes). It did much to incite and inflame already existing hatred of immigrant workers in this country. What I find just as ironic is that many of the immigrants from these areas (and my ancestors migrated through Pennsylvania from New York and ultimately into the Midwest after coming to this country) are descendants of the same peoples in that area of PA--Irish, Italians, and other ethnic Catholics--immigrants who were looked down upon by WASPs as criminals, thieves, and lawbreakers (much in the same way so many of their great-great grandchildren see Mexicans today). As you noted, that is the ultimate hypocrisy. We never cease becoming bigots towards new arrivals, even though most all of us were on that boat once (including the ancestors of the murderers in this case).