December 15, 2009

Already we can be thankful that we finally passed a federal hate-crime law this summer -- because it's helping bring about justice in the case of a Latino man killed by white thugs in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Five people, including three police officers, have been indicted in the fatal race-related beating of a Latino man in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Two indictments charge the five with federal hate crime charges, as well as obstruction of justice and conspiracy, authorities said in a written statement. A federal grand jury handed up the indictments last week, and they were unsealed Tuesday.

Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky are charged with a hate crime for beating Luis Ramirez in July 2008 while shouting racial epithets at him, according to the department. Ramirez died two days later.

"Following the beating, Donchak, Piekarsky and others, including members of the Shenandoah Police Department, participated in a scheme to obstruct the investigation of the fatal assault," the Justice Department said. As a result, Donchak faces three additional counts of conspiring to obstruct justice and related offenses, officials said.

Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor and two other officers are charged with conspiring to obstruct justice in the Ramirez investigation. Nestor and a fourth police officer are named in a third indictment and charged with extortion and civil rights violations related to police corruption, the Justice Department said.

It's genuinely disturbing to discover that local law-enforcement officers were involved in covering this matter up and obstructing justice. It adds just another twist to an already shocking case.

The Ramirez case was a classic example of why we needed to pass a federal bias-crime law -- especially considering the outrageous circumstances in which the local jury slapped the young thugs on the wrist:

[T]his was a pretty clear-cut case of jury nullification: the weight of evidence against the accused was so powerful that it's clear the all-white jury -- like similar juries in the South during the Civil Rights struggle -- was not going to convict two young white men of murdering a Mexican. Even if, as Friedman says, "the only reason he is dead is because he was Mexican."

Prosecutors alleged that the teens baited the Ramirez into a fight with racial epithets, provoking an exchange of punches and kicks that ended with Ramirez convulsing in the street, foaming from the mouth. He died two days later in a hospital.

Piekarsky was accused of delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez's head after he was knocked to the ground.

As they poured out of courthouse, the teens' supporters shouted "I was right from the start" and "I'm glad the jury listened" at cameras that caught the late-night verdict.

But Gladys Limon, a spokeswoman for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the jury had sent a troubling message.

"The jurors here [are] sending the message that you can brutally beat a person, without regard to their life, and get away with it, continue with your life uninterrupted," she said.

Considering some of the details of the killing, it's also inordinately clear this was a classic bias crime, with the incident instigated by racially charged taunts that made clear the victim was selected because of racial animus:

"Isn't it a little late for you guys to be out?" the boys said, according to court documents. "Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here."

... Burke recalled hearing one final, ominous threat as the teens ran. "They yelled, 'You effin bitch, tell your effin Mexican friends get the eff out of Shenandoah or you're gonna be laying effin next to him,' " she said.

That is, of course, the entire purpose of bias crimes: To hold the victim up as an example: "You're next." The purpose is to terrorize the target community, to drive them out, eliminate them.

This is why Latino advocates demanded the Justice Department step in and deliver justice. It looks like they have.

Larry Keeler at HateWatch has more.

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