May 14, 2009

The pressure is mounting on President Obama's Justice Department to take on the case of Luis Ramirez, the Latino man whose killers were set free by a rural Pennsylvania jury that likely indulged in classic race-based nullification -- and Exhibit A in the debate over why we need a federal bias-crime law.

Yesterday, Latino advocates held a news conference outside the Capitol to make the push:

Joined at a news conference outside of the Capitol by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., members of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Anti-Defamation League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said the federal government should press civil rights charges against Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19.

... "This trial sends a message that the Department of Justice and our congressional leaders should be very concerned with," said John Amaya, legislative staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "If you are Latino in America, if you are brutally attacked because of your ethnicity, if you died as a result of that brutal beating that is senseless and unjust, there is no justice for you."

The Justice Department has acknowledged it has an open investigation in the case, but has declined to be specific.

Gladys Limón of MALDEF has a piece up at CNN explaining in more detail why the case needs a closer examination -- at least, the sound legal reasons.

But there are larger reasons. As the Editors at The Sanctuary put it, murders like Ramirez's are an essential building block "in the process of establishing a subhuman class":

The third, overarching, shocking reality thrown into sharp relief by the murder of Luis Ramirez is how easily an environment of violently xenophobic rhetoric and targeted hate has normalized a modern-day lynching to the point that it is absorbed and diluted with barely a blip into the everyday news cycle and into public consciousness. How effortlessly a subhuman category of being is constructed and subsequently reviled. How a verdict has been passed on just how to deal with this synthesized Creature, and how effective that virulent messaging has been evidenced in a death like this one and in a pattern that plays out in various towns, cities, and states across the country. Seemingly unconnected cells of hatred hammer the dominant culture's sentence down upon a targeted group, and the system nods and winks when all is done.

The populace nods and winks along with them, too. This is particularly the case in rural areas, where bias crimes are rarely reported, rarely investigated or prosecuted, and even more rarely ever produce a conviction. As you can see in the above news reports, back in Schuykill County, the denial is layered on thickly:

One of the jurors at the beating death trial said a federal investigation is not the way to go.

"When is enough, enough? It's over! I don't think anything should come of this. I think the boys should live their lives and do something," said juror Josh Silfies.

Some people in Shenandoah agree.

"I think the verdict is the verdict and it should stay the verdict," said Christine Pridish.

Likewise, in a similar local account:

CHARLOTTE GOZDITIS: We are getting a reputation of being nothing but prejudiced, ignorant mean people and that's not true.

KATHY: The decision has been made. It's all done. It's over with.

Not everyone agrees, though:

Others, including Gene Gilbert, believe there is a need for a federal investigation. "Let them come in and look at this because I think they're getting off a little lenient."

"To get down to the truth to really investigate and find out what really went on and to make sure they get their justice," said Camille Guzman of Shenandoah.

"Up to now people are not satisfied with it and others who were very uncomfortable with it and I think it will bring satisfaction to go though with it. Nobody is going to be satisfied with it until it's over," said Kathleen Merchlinsky.

We'll be watching the Obama DOJ to see if it is appreciably better in dealing with these kinds of situations than was Bush's, which steadfastly ignored such situations.

In the meantime, despite the media's ongoing cluelessness about both the need for a federal bias-crimes law, as well as the right's utter mendaciousness in opposing it, the prospects of passing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act are looking better by the day.

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