When Anthony Baez as killed by former NYPD officer Francis Livoti 14 years ago tomorrow, the blue wall of silence, the blue wall of collusion and covering up went up but soon was knocked down thanks to a powerful coalition of grassroots organizations and attorneys that worked to support Anthony’s mother Iris.
While the death of Luis Ramirez wasn’t at the hands of police in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the recent Federal indictments of five people, including three police officers, for their roles in the death and subsequent cover up, remind us that the blue wall of silence is related to the border wall and the hateful rhetoric surrounding immigration, especially Latino immigration.
From an email from the National Alliance for Immigrant Rights Coordinating Committee:
The federal indictment comes from a statute that that makes it a federal offense to interfere with a person’s housing rights on the basis of race through threat or force. Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky were also accused, along with members of the local police department of scheming to obstruct the investigation of the attack. According to the Department of Justice both civilian defendants could get life in prison for the hate crime charge, while Donchek faces additional prison time for his role in the conspiracy to obstruct justice. Three police officers, including Shenandoah Police Chief Mathew Nestor were indicted for conspiring to obstruct justice in the investigation of the attack and face up to 20 years in prison. One of the three also faces charges of making false statements to the FBI. Nestor and his second in command face additional federal corruption and civil rights charges related to another matter.
And here is where my critique of the use of hate crime laws comes in. Let’s remember that over the summer both Donchak and Piekarsky were acquitted of ethnic intimidation- Pennsylvania’ s hate crime law. In addition, Piekarsky was found not guilty of third degree murder, while Donchak was acquitted of aggravated assault.
In the case on Anthony Baez, officer Francis Livoti also got away with murder, twice. I say that because the first homicide indictment against him was thrown out on a technicality. It was only after Anthony’s mother and her supporters took over the Bronx Distract Attorney’s office that a second homicide indictment was secured. In October 1996, Officer Francis Livoti was acquitted by a State Supreme Court Justice.
Why mention the Anthony Baez’s case? Because in 1998, former New York City cop Francis Livoti was sentenced to seven years in prison for violating Baez’s “right to be secure in his own person and free from the use of unreasonable force.” under federal law and fined $12,500. Many of us who had spent years in the streets and risked arrest were pleased to see this killer cop get locked up. The charge carried a maximum of 10 years. For the activists who had worked with the family, marched in cold streets, shut down events and risked arrest, it felt like some sort of victory, some piece of justice. Pero, Iris Baez, Anthony’s mother reminded us all of something. Livoti didn’t go to jail for taking Anthony’s life, murder or even homicide or manslaughter. He went to jail for violating his civil rights.
Civil rights and the more expansive human rights matter little when you’re dead. So longer sentences make us feel better, like all the marching, chanting, petition signing, mouse clicking and text messaging meant something. Whatever the outcome of the Federal case, no one will go to jail for taking Luis Ramirez from his children and this world. So while we need to support this case, it has to be done in a larger context. Whatever the outcome of the Federal case, it still will be dangerous to be a Latino in the United States.