"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The American stripes and "patriotic" vigilantes: Red, white and blue in the face

By Fidel “Butch” Montoya

Hate crimes are among the most hideous and hurtful crimes committed against any group of people. Beyond the physical injuries, hate also affects us emotionally and can damage our psyche for years. committed

Over the years, we have seen and heard of these crimes being against certain groups of people, and we have seen a quick and direct response against those who have committed hate crimes. In the past, America always had a scapegoat and someone that was intimidated and destroyed by hate.

When Matthew Shepherd was brutally attacked and left to die on some fence on a lonely prairie road in Wyoming, there seemed to be universal shock and disbelief. Wyoming always reflected the Old West and the values of the past encouraged by Manifest Destiny – white entitlement at all cost. So there in the middle of nowhere, Shepherd hung on that old fence as if he were a scarecrow, which is what his rescuers initially thought he was when discovering him.

After being coerced by two bar acquaintances to drink and then leave with the two men, they violently turned on the young man for being gay and murdered him for his wallet and money. Shepherd's brutal murder became one of the most famous hate crime deaths leading to movies, marches, protests, and a new effort by the gay community to make more people aware of hate crimes against gays.

We have heard the stories of how innocent blacks had to face hate, disrespect and death when many were hung from trees like common criminals just because whites hated black people. There is no question; this brutal and hateful period of history in this country is something we must constantly be vigilant. And we must rally against the violent hate crimes committed against black men and women in our country.

At the turn of the century, Bishop Henry M. Turner was able to express the uncertainty, the fear,and determination felt by many Blacks. "We were born here, raised here, bled and died here, and have a thousand times more right here than hundred of thousands of those who help to snub, proscribe, and persecute us, and that is one of the reasons I almost despise the land of my birth."

It is shameful that our society and federal government allowed the people who were responsible for these hate crimes to go in many cases unpunished and, in some cases, protected by the law.

It is time that Americans awake from their false sense of security and the false impressions we have created about racism and bigotry not being a problem in our country. Many citizens fail to understand that right now in our country, innocent men and women are being becoming the victims of rape, beatings and murder. While we whistle "Dixie," across our country more and more hate crimes driven by racism and bigotry are listed on the daily police log.

Today, the victims of violent hate crimes are Latinos and Spanish-speaking immigrants who, in many of the cases, were simply minding their own business. Brown people are now targeted by some Americans you would never dream would be responsible for such ugly and demeaning stalking and murders. It is time we all take notice of these hate crimes being committed in our country and realize it us up to us to stop this violence in our community.

It is inexcusable that other groups that have been victims of hate crimes remain silent or seemingly unwilling to voice their condemnation of other people being murdered, injured or having to live with hateful and difficult memories of being beaten, stalked, harassed, cursed for being "Mexican" or for speaking Spanish.

It appears that most Americans seem unaware of the hate crimes being committed or, if they are aware, turn a deaf ear and close their eyes to the heinous and vicious pictures and video displaying the hateful and evil-spirited acts of violence.

In his book, "Faces at the Bottom of the Well," Professor Derrick Bell writes about the history of persecution endured by blacks. Professor Bell's book has shaken the very foundation of our beliefs. He observes, "Many people will find it difficult to embrace my assumption that racism is a permanent component of American life."

One of the most heinous crimes against humankind was when several white teenagers brutally beat Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa. He was brutally beat to death because he was a Mexican immigrant. The white teenage boys harassed Luis for being "Mexican" and for having a white girl friend.

Ramirez attempted to walk away from the scene, not wanting to fight back. As Ramirez and his girl friend tried to get away, he was followed and beaten by the white teenagers. During the beating, Ramirez fell to the ground, then curled up as he tried to protect himself. His assailants continued kicking while he cowered on the ground. One of the teenagers viciously kicked Ramirez in the head, and it was obvious the three "good American boys" did feel any remorse or guilt.

Ramirez later died at the hospital of a severe head injury. What was his crime? Apparently, many of the good people of Shenandoah, Pa. believe being "brown" is reason to harass and kill.

Moreover, what did our criminal justice system do to provide justice to the loved ones of Ramirez? For one thing, police only called it a fight even though a person was killed.

The Morning Call.com, a local newspaper published an op-ed piece by The Rev Nelson Quinones, pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Easton, in which he wrote:

"The charges the Shenandoah jury dropped were third-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and ethnic intimidation. The jury found the teens guilty of simple assault, furnishing alcohol to minors, corruption of minors, and purchase and consumption of alcohol. The Latino population is under attack by hate-mongers. Yet the Latino community is portrayed as prospective attackers. To add insult to injury, this is after a Mexican immigrant was beaten to death. Who is the victim? In Shenandoah, Latinos are hiding from the police, who appear to have failed them."

We have seen the hateful conduct by the Maricopa County Sherriff in Arizona against undocumented Mexican immigrants and Latino American citizens. In Sheriff Arpaio's federally granted authority, he believes he has the right to harass and detain any person who may look like an undocumented immigrant.

The reality is that you and I could be walking down the streets of Maricopa County minding our own business, innocent of any crime, but stopped and jailed for not having the correct documentation showing our citizenship to the USA.

I ask you, how many Americans actually carry their passports as proof of citizenship? Yet, this is what is required by the good Sheriff Arpaio if you do not have any other picture ID documentation showing that you are a legal person in our country.

A few months ago, a group on a church men's retreat in another part of Arizona, assembled in a state park, was detained and eventually some of the men were jailed and deported.

Their crime? Creating a public nuisance for singing and praying while preparing breakfast for the group. They were cited for disturbing the peace and the sheriff's department was called to put an end to this peaceful right of assembly. Their songs or prayers were not so loud as to create a public nuisance. The pastor of the group was put in jail for several weeks until he could get his documentation in order. Innocent, but guilty of being brown in Arizona.

A month or so ago we witnessed another ugly and disgusting double murder committed by a group of armed men and women. They ended up killing nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul Junior Flores in Arivaca, Ariz.

The vigilantes who took the law into their own hands were Minutemen, members of a "civilian defense corps" that harasses undocumented immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Brisenia's mother was also shot and severely injured in the shooting. Police suspect the "minutemen vigilantes" intended to leave no witness behind.

The Flores' crime? Being brown in Arizona. It appears these members of the Minutemen, dressed as law enforcement officers, busted down the door of the house where the Flores lived. Shawna Forde, a highly influential member of the Minutemen and advocate for the Minutemen movement, felt she and her cohorts could kill this family simply because they needed money and drugs to finance their efforts to "guard the border."

What is so hideous about this crime is that they actually felt they could get away with taking the law into their own hands and murdering any member of the Flores family who got in their way.

The Department of Homeland Security recently released a report on right-wing extremists like Forde's group who have the power to incite other right-wing groups to violence. Of course, right-wing politicians and pundits, to mention the Minutemen, condemned the report.

Pima Country Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was appalled at the Flores crime scene where the family were ruthlessly murdered. "This was a planned home invasion where the plan was to kill all the people inside this trailer so there would be no witnesses. To just kill a nine-year-old girl because she might be a potential witness to me is just one of the most despicable acts that I have heard of."

It is time that these hate crimes against Latinos be stopped. We can no longer sit on the sidelines and not do anything about the murders callously committed by right wing extremists.

Like so many other problems in our country, we must raise awareness of these crimes, and do whatever we can to curtail the belief that some people they have to kill Latinos. It is inexcusable to allow this climate of fear and murder to exist in neighborhoods across the nation.

Perhaps Pastor Quinones said it best. He stated, "The reality is Hispanics are living in panic. Mothers tell their children not to speak Spanish on their way to school," he stated. "Fathers instruct their sons not to wear baseball caps that bear national symbols or t-shirts with a flag. Overall, parents are encouraging their children to walk in pairs. No one should be a straggler. Get home quickly."

Yes, it is time we got home quickly, and safely. But before we do, we must raise up in righteous anger, and stop the violence against our community.

America, where is your indignation against violence toward "brown people?"

This column first appeared at www.latinolandscape.com

Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H.S. Power and Light Ministries. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000. Montoya was Licensed as a Minister in 1972.

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