Last week, a jury in a Federal Court in Pennsylvania convicted Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky of violating the civil rights of Luis Ramirez, when the two former high school football players from Shenandoah, PA beat and kicked the Mexican immigrant to death in July 2008.
From the Cypress Times:
The jury found the defendants guilty of violating the criminal component of the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it a crime to use a person’s race, national origin or ethnicity as a basis to interfere, with violence or threats of violence, with a person’s right to live where he chooses to live. In addition, the jury found that Donchak conspired to, and did in fact, obstruct justice.
The Feds stepped in with Hate Crime charges after the state court allowed Donchak and Piekarsky to get away with murder. Now the two face life in prison. Sentencing will be Jan. 24, 2011.
Is this the road to justice though?
I may be accused to splitting hairs here, but it is important to remember that this is not a murder conviction. It is a conviction of violating Ramirez’s civil rights which led to his death (which is why the possible sentence is so high). And that does make a difference. I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on tv but there seems to be a root difference between proving someone’s hate against Mexicans/Latinos motivated them to go out and kill someone and that someone’s hate against Mexicans/Latinos motivated them to violate their civil rights, in this case Ramirez’s right to live where he wanted. This was something I pointed out when the DOJ made it’s initial indictment. For many families that I have worked with whose children have been killed by hate crimes and state violence, this does make a difference, especially when considering what could happen if the race/ethnicity of the killer/victim were reversed.
As America’s Voice points out, while the Ramirez verdict may feel like some relief, especially for the family, the use of “the Latino immigrant” as a fear tactic meant to inspire hate an fear continues and by those seeking more power in the United States.
This campaign season, a number of candidates are running race-baiting campaign ads that demonize immigrants. They use extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric instead of offering real solutions to our immigration crisis. Republican Senate candidates David Vitter (R-LA) and Sharron Angle of Nevada are both running anti-immigrant ads that paint Latinos as dangerous criminals, freeloaders, and the enemies of “real” Americans.
On Saturday night, after a reading as part of the make/shift RecLAmation Tour, the artists were asked if we believed that the law could be expected to protect communities from and stop hate. While this verdict is a huge step in many ways and yes is something to be celebrated, the daily reality of immigrants, especially immigrant Latinos in this country has not changed all that much. In fact we have seen it get worse as immigration enforcement separates our families legally, and the “criminals” follow that example.