Weekly Diaspora: Why Sexual Violence Against Latina Farmworkers is a Hate Crime

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

This week, two high-profile trials involving the racially motivated murders of Latinos in Pennsylvania and Arizona are exposing the unsettling implications of growing anti-immigrant sentiment. But while antagonistic political discourse and incendiary policy are shown to provoke ethnic violence—correlating with a 52 percent increase in hate crimes—they also indirectly drive sexual violence against immigrant women. The combination of stricter enforcement and increased cultural animosity toward immigrants renders undocumented women workers more susceptible to workplace rape and sexual exploitation—violent crimes that don’t generally register as hate crimes but that nevertheless bespeak of racially charged motives.

Two murder cases highlight senseless violence against Latinos

The trial of Minuteman border vigilante Shawna Forde, and two other individuals charged with the 2009 murder of a nine-year-old Latina girl and her father, began this week in Arivaca, Arizona. Julianne Hing at ColorLines reports that Brisenia Flores was shot twice in the head by home invaders allegedly enlisted by Forde, who is accused of sanctioning racially motivated home invasions to finance (via robbery) her border patrol activities. Flores’ parents were also shot, but her mother, Gina Gonzales, survived.

As Hing notes, Forde had strong ties with both the Tea Party movement and prominent anti-immigrant groups, including the influential conservative think-tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR):

Forde had a habit of ending her emails with the sign off, “Lock and Load” and had close ties with tea party groups. She was involved with the Minutemen American Defense—her supporters claim she was once a Minuteman National Director—a loose affiliation of anti-immigration border activists who took to policing the border on their own with guns and surveillance equipment. Forde has also had ties with the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform. These groups have all been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Immigrant rights groups and Latino community advocates alike have characterized the grisly crime as part of a growing anti-immigrant hate crime epidemic plaguing many divided communities across the country.

One such community, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, recently saw the close of another hate crime case, in which three police officers were accused of covering up the racially motivated murder of 25-year-old immigrant Luis Ramirez. As New America Media reports, a Shenandoah jury issued a split verdict against the officers who were charged with obstruction of justice, falsifying records and conspiracy for their alleged attempt to protect Ramirez’s teenage murderers. Former police Chief Matthew Nestor was found guilty on the first two counts, but found not guilty of conspiracy. Former police Lt. William Moyer was similarly found guilty of making false statements, but acquitted of all other charges, as was former police Officer Jason R. Hayes. Latino advocacy groups have characterized the officers’ actions as a stark example of politicized community leaders privileging white criminals over their Latino victims.

Death of 17-year-old farmworker brings to light workplace exploitation

As antagonistic immigration discourse and prejudicial policies foster violence, immigrant workers are increasingly susceptible to workplace exploitation. In the case of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, that exploitation proved deadly.

Change.org’s Antonio Ramirez reports that Jimenez, who was two months pregnant, died of exposure while pruning grapes on a field owned by California’s Merced Farm Labor. The company had been fined previously for violating heat regulations, but still failed to ensure that its workers received legally mandated access shade, water and breaks. Now, Merced’s owner, Maria De Los Angeles Colung, as well as its former safety coordinator, Elias Armenta, are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jimenez’s death but, as Ramirez notes, they’ve accepted a plea bargain which would only mandate community service.

Jimenez’s preventable death highlights rampant exploitation of immigrant workers in the U.S. food industry—particularly of women. As Alternet’s Jill Richardson reports, immigrant workers are increasingly the victims of wage theft and are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides and other hazardous conditions while women workers regularly contend with a variety of workplace sexual abuse and harassment. Richardson summarizes the phenomenon thusly:

In addition to the fondling and groping the women endured on the job, women also engaged in consensual relationships with supervisors to gain “a secure place in American society, a green card, a husband — or at the very least a transfer to an easier job at the plant.” […]

And then there’s the nonconsensual stuff: A 2008 piece in High Country News revealed that farmworkers refer to one company’s field as the “field of panties” because so many women workers are raped by supervisors. And as far back as 1993, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in its own study that 90 percent of female farm workers cite sexual harassment as a serious problem.

While the sexual abuse of (largely undocumented) women farmworkers doesn’t register as a hate crime in the same way that the racially motivated murders of Luiz Ramirez and the Flores family do, the nature of their exploitation is clearly gendered and racialized. As immigration enforcement tightens, effectively pushing undocumented workers further underground while discouraging undocumented victims of violent crimes from coming forward, farmworkers will continue to be targeted for exploitation based on their gender, race and nationality—the same criteria upon which Ramirez and the Flores family were targeted for deadly violence.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Anti-Immigrant Hate Crimes Rise with Hateful Political Speech

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The federal trial of three Pennsylvania police officers accused of covering up the murder of an undocumented Mexican immigrant opened last week—reigniting critical discussion about the recent rise of anti-immigrant hate crimes. The officers—former Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Patrolman Jason Hayes—allegedly attempted to conceal the racially motivated nature of the 2008 murder of 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, who was brutally beaten to death in a park by a group of teenagers spouting racial slurs. At the time, Ramirez’s murder underscored a growing trend of anti-Hispanic violence in the U.S., which some attribute to increasingly anti-immigrant political rhetoric.

In recent years, hate crimes against Latinos have increased by 52 percent, a steep rise that Alternet’s Arun Gupta attributes to incessant “right-wing vituperation” and “caustic rhetoric.” In Arizona, where anti-immigrant sentiment has fomented into a bevy of retrogressive and prejudicial state policies, the number of reported hate crimes rose from 161 in 2007 to 219 in 2009. Tellingly, the recent rise in anti-Latino hate crimes runs counter to an overall decrease in reported hate crimes nationwide.

Prevalence of I-Word on television coincides with anti-immigrant hate crimes

At ColorLines, Mónica Novoa points out that a dramatic spike in the use of the word “illegals” in television programming last year coincided with both the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 and a number of subsequent racially motivated murders:

  • In June, Juan Varela—U.S. citizen and a third-genderation Mexican American—was shot to death in Phoenix by a man shouting “You fucking Mexican, go back to Mexico!”
  • In July, Sergio Zapata-Zurita’s family was accosted at gunpoint in Washington by a man apparently obsessed with “illegal immigration.
  • In August, Martin Reyes—a Honduran immigrant and father of six—was stabbed to death in Baltimore by a crazed man who told police that he “hated Mexicans.”

The irony here is that, while heated discourse surrounding the measure may have contributed to a rash of anti-immigrant hate crimes last year, its implementation in Arizona has inhibited the local victims of those crimes contacting the police—for fear that, under the new law, they will be arrested for being undocumented.

Hate crimes report censored to conceal role of official’s hate speech

Some localities have taken important steps to counter the rise of anti-Latino hate crimes, but at least one of those well-meaning efforts has been undermined by the anti-immigrant Right. Change.org’s Alex DiBranco reports that, in Suffolk County, New York, one ranking official’s affinity for anti-immigrant rhetoric may have compelled him to censor a potentially damning hate crimes report. Suffolk County’s problem with anti-immigrant violence has been in the news since 2008, when the racially motivated murder of an Ecuadoran immigrant highlighted Long Island’s epidemic of racial violence. Following the incident, Suffolk County formed a Hate Crimes Task Force responsible for monitoring hate crimes in the area, and issuing reports of its findings.

But County Executive Steve Levy, who is locally notorious for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, has been accused of editing more than 50 pages from the task force’s most recent report—many of which contained substantial criticism of his administration’s handling of immigrant issues, according to Mike Clifford at the Public News Service. Noting that Levy’s critics have long attributed the rise in anti-immigrant hate crimes to his extreme position on immigration, DiBranco speculates that Levy’s drastic censorship of the report is an attempt to conceal his own role in fostering violence.

Bigotry accusations divide the Republican Party

Following the recent Tucson shooting, the tragic potential of hateful political rhetoric has come to the foreground. The issue has become so heated that it threatens to fracture the Republican Party itself. In the aftermath of the tragedy, and in light of the party’s increasingly extremist positions on immigration, certain  party leaders have defected from the GOP, accusing the party of fostering racism for political ends, John Tomasic at the American Independent reports. Most recently, former Colorado Republican Muhammad Ali Hasan and former Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes have spoken out against party bigotry directed at Muslims and Latinos, prompting conservative Latino organization Somos Republicans to launch an anti-bigotry campaign against its own party.

It’s a step in the right direction. But even as a minority of Republicans takes it upon themselves to critically examine the role of the party’s extremist positions and rhetoric, the deadly impact of the party’s institutionalized bigotry nevertheless remains remarkably under-recognized—even as it continues to claim innocent lives.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Jury Rules Immigrant’s Murder a Hate Crime, Even as Vicious Ads Continue to Stoke Racial Tensions

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra from America's Voice.

While the mainstream media has been largely absent, Latina Lista has been busy covering the dramatic trial of the two men charged with the hate crime killing of immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa. It turns out the 2008 murder was, indeed, a hate crime. 

A federal grand jury has convicted the two Pennsylvania men, in a verdict that many argue was long overdue.

On July 14, 2008, Ramirez was beaten to death by a group of teenagers who yelled racial epithets throughout the killing.  A retired Philadelphia police officer said she heard one of the defendants yell to Mr. Ramirez’s friends, “Tell your [expletive] Mexican friends to get the [expletive] out of Shenandoah or you’ll be [expletive] laying next to him.”  Defendants were reported to have yelled, “Go back to Mexico” as they beat him to death.

Despite the evidence, an all-white jury found two of the defendants “not guilty” of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation last year, to cheers in the courtroom and the astonishment of the Latino community.  The Federal government took up the case and finally justice was served.

Yet, two years after Ramirez' gruesome murder, we continue to see egregious examples of race-baiting and immigrant bashing for political gain. 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.  

The FBI reports that hate crimes against Latinos rose 32% between 2003 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available), and groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented a correlation between anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino violence.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

Hateful campaign ads and rhetoric that demonize immigrants have no place in America today.  It’s as if some politicians think there is no cost for immigrant-bashing.  Well they are wrong.  This type of rhetoric creates a climate where violent crimes are committed against human beings simply because of the color of their skin.  Yesterday’s verdict in the Luis Ramirez murder is just, but it’s not nearly enough.  Politicians and pundits must stop using immigrants as scapegoats and instead use their microphones to spread a message of tolerance, humanity, and the need for common sense immigration reform.

In light of this tragic case, we believe it’s time for politicians and pundits to end the hateful rhetoric and immigrant bashing that has created a hostile climate for Latinos and encouraged hate crimes like the murder of Mr. Ramirez. Luis Ramirez lost his life because of the unaccountable, incendiary, and out-of-control immigration debate in this country.

Politicians who stoke racial fears and hatred need to realize that their rhetoric has severe -- but not unforeseen-- consequences.

The ruling on Luis Ramirez' murder should serve as a wake-up call to those who refuse to end the politics of division and fear.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

Mining Racism and Murder in a Pennsylvania Coal Town

by Walter Brasch

On a street in Shenandoah, Pa., deep in the heart of the anthracite coal region, six White teens took their racial hatred to a higher level. They confronted 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, an undocumented worker, and beat him to death.

At first the police chief, the mayor, and borough manager refused to believe racism was involved. Although there was already racial and ethnic tension in the 5,000 population town, the town's political leaders were united in one belief--it was just another street fight gone bad. "I have reason to know the kids who were involved, the families who were involved, and I've never known them to harbor this type of feeling," said the borough manager.

It took police almost two weeks, even with several witnesses, to finally arrest four of the teens. The district attorney charged two of the teens with homicide, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation, and two others with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Unindicted co-conspirators are millions of Americans and the far-right mass media.

It's common for people in a nation that is in a Recession to complain. They're frustrated with their lives, with bad working conditions, dead end jobs, and low incomes. They're frustrated by skyrocketing prices, obscene corporate profits, and do-nothing legislators. The problem isn't "us," they believe, but "them." Others. Outsiders who "invaded" America.

A century ago in the coal region, good ole boy Americans complained about the Irish and Poles who took "our" jobs in the mines. For decades, Whites kept Blacks out of almost all but the most menial jobs, and then lynched those who they found to be too "uppity." During the 1920s and 1930s, the masses of Germans, trying to rationalize their own economic distress, decided the problem was the Jews--and  Americans went along with that ethnic racism. We blame Asians. Africans. Muslims. Anyone who's different.

In today's America, it's the "Illegals," the code-name for undocumented Mexicans. Of course, undocumented Swedes or Canadians or anyone with White skin pass under the radar. Anyone with dark skin doesn't.
However, politicians and pundits together yell that "illegal" means just that. "What's not to understand about `illegal'," they screech. They claim they aren't after any one race or people. Just get rid of illegals. You know, the ones who take "our" jobs. Take "our" welfare. Take "our" education. Take "our" health care. For free! And, while they're taking, say the forces of righteousness and purity, these illegals become criminals. Some do. But most don't.

You can't reason with people in their own crises. You can't tell them that our prisons are filled not with undocumented workers but with American citizens. You can't explain that most undocumented workers don't want hand-outs because they don't want to be known to the authorities. Volumes of data won't convince some of the masses that undocumented workers, the illegals, often live in near-poverty and don't get welfare. They don't even go to the ER when necessary, and so their illness or injury "runs its course" while destroying other body systems because these undocumented workers, already exploited by American business, are afraid of being identified and deported.

In our schools, hatred festers and breeds. Jokes about race, ethnicity, religion, women, gays, and anyone not "us" are told and retold by students--and by teachers and principals who should know better.

Two decades ago, the hatreds would have been somewhat isolated, confined to the corner saloon or social club. But now, self-aggrandizing politicians and media talk show hosts and pundits, who erroneously believe they are populists, spew hate-filled torrents of bigotry and fear-mongering.

I don't know if the six teens who murdered Luis Ramirez listen to talk radio, watch Fox News, or read web blogs and anonymous call-ins and letters to the local newspaper. They don't have to. Their community does.

[Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a syndicated columnist, and author of 17 books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through amazon.com and other stores.]

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