ATTACKS

Hatred is never very far away

 
 
OJITO
OJITO

mao35@columbia.edu

On April 19, 2010, the day a Long Island jury found teenager Jeff Conroy guilty of killing 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero, an immigrant from Ecuador, his brother, Joselo, turned to face the media and triumphantly announced, “The hunting season is over.”

He was referring to the pastime that some youngsters in Suffolk County knew as “beaner hunting” — chasing after Hispanics to attack and rob them.

Later that same day, standing on the spot in the Village of Patchogue where Lucero had bled to death from a stab wound nearly 18 months earlier, Joselo seemed to reconsider his words. Hate, he said, “is always looking for another place.”

It appears that, for now, that place is Huntington Station, just 28 miles north from Patchogue, where, Newsday has reported, several teenagers, ages 14 and 16, went on a recent crime spree in which they punched, kicked and hit four Hispanic men.

The case has eerie echoes of the attack against Lucero, who was seized upon by seven teenagers on the night of Nov. 8, 2008. All but one of them confessed to attacks against other Latinos, some within the previous 24 hours.

At the time, it seemed logical to frame the actions of the teenagers in the context of racial tensions in Suffolk County, where Hispanic day laborers had for years been a source of irritation.

Then, as now, the nation was dealing with an indecisive Congress unable or unwilling to take on immigration reform to address the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It seemed easier to blame a set of circumstances or conservative pundits in the media for the death of Lucero than to accept violence against immigrants as part of the American narrative.

Many Americans live under the illusion that anti-immigrant hate crimes happen elsewhere, not in the United States, where immigration is at the heart of the country’s sense of identity.

But a closer look at the history of hate crimes reveals a starkly different reality — one that is often airbrushed out of history books and museum exhibits.

One of the first recorded instances of violence against Latinos happened during the California Gold Rush, when Mexican, Chilean and Peruvian miners were ordered to leave the area around Sutter Mill at Coloma. When they refused, a violent confrontation ensued, leaving two Americans and three Chileans dead.

Through the years, the incidents pile up: the beating of a farmworker in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1912; the clubbing to death of a fieldworker in Rio Hondo, Texas, in 1921; the incarceration of hundreds of jobless Mexicans in Denver, charged with public loitering (too many people looking for jobs); the attack on a couple in Luling, Texas, in 1926 — the wife was raped — by a soldier from Fort Sam Houston.

More recently, the passage of Proposition 187, also known as the Save Our State Initiative, in California in 1994, led to a 23.5 percent increase of hate crimes against Latinos in the Los Angeles area; the courts later declared the law unconstitutional. On Sept. 17, 2000, two young men picked up two day laborers in Farmingville, Long Island, and took them to the basement of an abandoned warehouse, where they attacked them with a crowbar, a shovel and a knife. Battered and bloody, the laborers managed to escape.

Similar encounters — angry young white men chasing Mexicans but settling for any Latino —have taken place in Tennessee, New Jersey, Georgia, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Wyoming, Missouri, Nebraska, Florida and Washington, D.C., in addition to California and Texas, according to a report compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center that included cases from 2004 to 2007.

One of those cases took place at a party in a suburb Houston, Texas, on April 22, 2006, when two young men attacked David Ritcheson, 16. The attackers broke his jaw and knocked him unconscious, while screaming, “White power!” and calling Ritcheson, Mexican American, a “spic” and a “wetback.” They also burned him with cigarettes, kicked him with steel-toed boots, attempted to carve a swastika into his chest, poured bleach on him and finally sodomized him with a patio umbrella pole.

It took 30 surgeries before Ritcheson, confined to a wheelchair and wearing a colostomy bag, was able to return to school.

A year after the attack, he spoke at a hearing of the U.S. House’s Judiciary Committee about strengthening federal hate-crime laws. Less than three months later, Ritcheson committed suicide. He was 18.

When Conroy was sentenced to 25 years, his supporters in the community thought the punishment did not fit the crime. Conroy had become a scapegoat, they said, the one whose guilty verdict and long sentence in prison were meant to serve as a deterrent for other young men with biases against Hispanics.

And for a while it seemed to work. Yet, late last year a report by the Division of Criminal Justice Services of New York State revealed that in 2012, hate crimes went up 30 percent. In Florida, hate crimes rose 22 percent in the same period.

And so Joselo Lucero was right after all: Hate moved on from the Village of Patchogue, but it didn’t go very far.

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