Luis Ramirez moved to Shenandoah, Pa., from his native Mexico to find work, but he found a lot more.
First he found love; he met a young woman from the town and had two beautiful children. Then he found hate.
Hatred allegedly drove four high-school athletes to attack Luis as he walked down the street with a young white girl on July 12. They yelled racial slurs at him as they punched him, knocked him down and kicked him in the head. Two days later, Luis died.
The young attackers were not detained until almost two weeks after the beating. One was charged as a minor; another made a plea bargain, pleading guilty to federal charges of violating Ramirez's civil rights under the Fair Housing Act; and the other two went to trial and were judged by an all-white jury.
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The jury in the case of the two who were tried acquitted them of all charges except for simple assault and alcohol- related charges, and they were sentenced to serve only six months and a few days in jail.
To John Amaya, an attorney from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who sat in on the trial, this clearly was a hate crime. "This case sends the message to the Latino community that if you are Hispanic in this country and you are killed in a brutal attack, that there is no justice for you or your family," said Amaya. "This means not only that an immigrant's life is worthless, but that a Latino's life is worthless."
MALDEF has joined forces with other civil-rights groups such as the Anti- Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center in calling on the Justice Department to file federal hate-crime charges against the defendants. MALDEF has more than 50,000 petitions to support the request. It also is pushing Congress to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Bill that would authorize the Department of Justice to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated crimes.
Even though hate crimes are on the rise -- the FBI reports an increase of 40 percent in hate crimes targeting Latinos from 2003 to 2007, and a 50 percent increase in hate groups -- these are still very difficult to prosecute. Laws vary from state to state, and at the federal level, hate crimes are treated as civil- rights violations.
The case of Luis Ramirez could have devastating effects, aside from the injustice to his family. The blatant expressions of racism surrounding the Ramirez case are worrisome. Some of the townspeople said that if he hadn't been in the country illegally in the first place, he wouldn't have been killed. The outcome of this case increases the fear that hate-crime victims or witnesses across the country will refrain from reporting a crime, thinking it will not be brought to justice. It is the responsibility of our federal government to take swift and definite action to help alleviate that fear, because unfortunately, hate can kill.
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