As hate crimes against Latinos escalate, the community seeks justice for its latest victim.
“Luis Ramirez was murdered. And yet no one is being held responsible for the loss of his life,” said Gladys Limón a few minutes after an all-white jury acquitted two teens charged with ethnic intimidation and aggravated assault of the Mexican immigrant.
Limón, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), represented Crystal Dillman (the fiancee and mother of Ramirez’s two children) in a trial that shed light on the racial tension Latinos experience in their diaspora through rural America.
Hate crimes against Latinos are on par with the rising anti-immigrant sentiment prevailing throughout the country. FBI statistics show there were 1,347 victims attacked in this country because of their ethnicity or national origin. Hispanics represent 62 percent of those victimized. And though the most common offense is intimidation—2,565 in 2007—there were at least nine murders and non-negligent manslaughters in the United States. Convictions are rare.
“The justice system has failed to vindicate the death of Luis Ramirez, has failed to vindicate the communities and national interests,” said Limón shortly after defendants Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, walked out of a Schuylkill County court free of the most serious charges in Ramirez’s murder.
Now, national and local organizations are putting pressure on the federal government to further its investigations into Ramirez’s death, a sign that this issue is far from over.
“We’re engaged in consultation with other agencies to see if we would take any actions and what those actions would be,” says Barry Morrison, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Philadelphia. “Yet it’s premature to say what’s going to happen.”
MALDEF has already launched an online petition collecting signatures in an effort to force the Department of Justice to classify Ramirez’s death as a hate crime.
Even grassroots websites have taken up the cause. Presente.org, a site dedicated to disseminating Latino news, is asking readers to join a petition calling for Pennsylvania’s elected officials—specifically Gov. Rendell—to speak out on the acquittal of what prosecutors also labeled a hate crime.
On the night of July 12, 2008, Luis Eduardo Ramirez, 25, was beaten to death by four white teenagers (all football players for their local high school) in Shenandoah, a town in Pennsylvania’s coal country some 80 miles north of Philadelphia. Two days later, the Mexican immigrant succumbed to his injuries at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.
Ramirez had been waiting for his fiancee and her sister Roxanne Rector, 15, who had just gone to her mother’s house to ask permission to sleep over at a friend’s house. When the group of high school jocks encountered the girl, one of them, 18-year old Brian Scully, yelled, “Isn’t it a little bit late for you to be out?”
That’s when mayhem ensued. Ramirez yelled back at them in Spanish, and after a brief exchange in which Scully called him a “spic” and told him “to go back to Mexico,” the pack, lead by Piekarsky, pounced.
Ramirez was beaten, kicked and stomped on. The autopsy showed that his skull had a double fracture: one in the back of the head and another on the left side. This latter injury was so serious that his brain oozed out and swelled up, causing his basic functions to stop.
Piekarsky, charged with third-degree murder, was accused of delivering the fatal kick to Ramirez’s head while he lie unconscious on the ground. Piekarsky also faced aggravated assault; recklessly endangering another person; simple assault; ethnic intimidation; criminal solicitation/hindering apprehension or prosecution; and purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor.
“Brandon Piekarsky snapped,” argued Assistant District Attorney Robert Frantz in his opening statement. “He rushed at Luis Ramirez, kicked him. When Brandon Piekarsky is done, Derrick Donchak rushes at him.”
Donchak, 19, was charged with aggravated assault; simple assault; recklessly endangering another person; criminal solicitation/hindering apprehension or prosecution; ethnic intimidation; corruption of minors; purchase or consumption of alcohol by a minor; and selling or furnishing alcohol to minors.
Colin Walsh, 17, another teenager involved, punched Ramirez in the chin and knocked him down, causing his head to smash against the pavement.
Walsh plead guilty in federal court to violating Ramirez’s Fair Housing Rights, admitting that his actions prevented other Latinos from moving into the area, which got all state charges against him dropped. The deal will send him to prison for four to nine years.
In return, Walsh testified that he saw Piekarsky kick Ramirez in the head.