Thursday, June 18, 2009

Getting Away with Murder in Pennsylvania

From CNN:Two teens were sentenced to at least six months in prison for the beating death of an undocumented Mexican immigrant in Pennsylvania. The victim, 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, was attacked by a drunken group of teens who shouted racial epithets at him and later succumbed to wounds so severe that at one point "brain tissue oozed out of his skull during surgery at a hospital."

The defendants, Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, were portrayed as two fun-loving, all-American teens (they were on their school's football team!) who fell into an unfortunate situation. They were just hanging around doing what small-town teens do, which is drink and look for trouble, and then came across a person of color who was beat to death. For that, you get 6 to 23 months in jail. The judge on the case, William Baldwin, was unmoved by a letter from Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell asking for the case to be considered a hate crime and following the verdict, though he did tell the defendants "You picked out a guy who was not one of you and just beat the pulp out of him." Governor Rendell sent another letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking to pursue civil rights charges.

I've written about this before, the rise in hate crimes in this country, the rise in attacks against Latino immigrants in particular, and I couldn't be more offended by the verdicts handed down in Pennsylvania. For me, an educated Latino who doesn't feel vulnerable in the eyes of the law, it's infuriating to see a system that I (mostly) believe in disregard the rights of certain people. I refuse to believe that minorities are powerless, but it's certainly crushing to see acquittals or lenient sentences in case after case of white-on-black or latino violence. That these issues should divide people along political lines is also disappointing, as there shouldn't be a middle ground when discussing the death of an innocent person.

Cases like this place a huge responsibility on educated people of color who can and should talk back to the system and who should speak up for those of us who have less recourse to defend themselves.


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