Three things immediately shock the conscious soul upon learning about the murder of Luis Ramirez. The simple manner in which he died is the first of those.
Ramirez, a father of three, was beaten to death in the streets of Pennsylvania by as many as seven young men who were at the end of a night of drinking. The motive? Judging by the slurs heaped upon him along with the many blows to his body: apparently nothing more than being out at night while Mexican. The teens who ganged up on Ramirez came upon him walking with a young woman, reportedly his girlfriend’s sister. Obviously bringing threat, they asked him what he was doing out at that time of day. Then they set upon him. In the end it was a final hard kick to the skull which left the 25-year-old father convulsing on the concrete with fatal brain damage.
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The police arrived shortly after the attack but rather than jump into hot pursuit of the white criminals, they chose instead to search Latino eyewitnesses for weapons, claiming that following the guilty parties simply wasn’t their “priority.” Ramirez’s attackers weren’t arrested for another two weeks, even though eyewitnesses at the scene knew who they were without a doubt.The second stomach-churner is the jury’s decision to exonerate Ramirez’s killers from the charges of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and ethnic intimidation, leaving to stand only the reduced charge of simple assault. This, despite the testimony of Eileen Burke, a retired police officer at the scene. Burke testified that at the end, the murderers yelled to Ramirez’ girlfriend “You effin bitch, tell your effin Mexican friends get the eff out of Shenandoah or you’re gonna be laying effin next to him.” This, despite two of the accused men themselves admitting to yelling “go home you Mexican [expletive]” at the scene of the crime.
Yet somehow, in the face of these facts, the all-white jury ruled there was no evidence of “ethnic intimidation.” According to a CNN report, town residents were quick to explain and downplay the actions of this violent group of “star students and football players” as “just an alcohol-fueled confrontation among kids.” They furthered their argument by reciting “a litany of attacks allegedly perpetrated by Latinos against Anglos.” Perhaps they could have saved time and breath by saying The spics had it coming.
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.
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The process of defining a subhuman class and institutionalizing discrimination and violence against that group is not new. How quickly and conveniently some of us allow our collective memory to cover its own tracks. Parasite, diseased, leeching, dangerous, over-breeding, vermin. These terms and this imagery have been deployed for ages, on various groups of people, on various pieces of land, in the service of various endeavors; and always to bring about the same ends. To demonize and dehumanize a group of people so that other people come to understand that the social compact with the demonized group is broken; that discrimination and violence against the dehumanized class now carries no moral consequence. That is the meaning of this latest ruling by an all-white jury in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Racial murder of a Mexican carries the same consequence as walking up to a white person and punching them in the belly: simple assault.
The notion of a categorically subhuman class of persons who exists below the rules and obligations the rest of humanity warrants is as simple as it is ugly. Ugly like the prison at Guantánamo, where unfortunate bodies from the Middle East are deprived of anything resembling the law, ideals, or morality most Americans feel they deserve by mere existence. Ugly like Abu Ghraib. Ugly like the prisons in Baghdad and Bagram, where atrocities appear to be the norm. Even as our government promised that it was “fighting Them There” in order to prevent “Them” from coming “Here”, an ideology of dehumanizing terror was propagating and swelling in our own ranks and within our own borders; an ideology which devalues “Hajis” in the same way that it foists hatred upon Mexicans and all others who sound or appear somehow Latin American.
The murder of Luis Ramirez-like the murders of Marcelo Lucero and Wilter Sanchez and Jose Sucuhañay-are but logical steps in the process of defining a subhuman class of ALIEN and inciting anti-Latino violence, which will continue unless marked changes are made in our society. Changes in the immigration dialogue. Changes in the way pundits frame and discuss the issue. Perhaps even more importantly, changes to the fashion in which both Republicans and Democrats pitch and move legislation. The entire “Enforcement Agenda” that directly links immigration status (and thus all Latinos) to criminality, discussed coolly by seemingly rational voices on both Right and Left, is but the socially and politically acceptable umbrella which shields crimes like the murder of Luis Ramirez. The ubiquitous message resonating from coast to coast of this continent, across which peoples of Latin American descent have been migrating back and forth for thousands of years, is that we are in the crosshairs. And that we deserve to be in those hair-trigger sights.
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Though it is necessary and a good thing, it is not enough to pass H.S. 1913, the current Hate Crimes bill that has cleared the Senate and is now headed for the House. Nor is it adequate to simply pass the D.R.E.A.M Act (though, again necessary, so please sign), and/or to legalize the immigrants who are working and raising families in the US, and be done with it. These things must be done, and soon. But we must not rest there.
First, we must demand a satisfactory accounting find its way to this unresolved injustice. (Please sign the petition to add your voice.) Next, we must be honest about what has happened here in our nation; about how this gathering animosity has manifested in various ways to result in a targeting of one class of people; about how segments of our current culture and business world stand to profit from maintaining the status quo, despite the harm. We must think of how we can personally lend a hand in changing this in our own communities and social circles. Finally, we must change on a much larger scale, very particular and practical elements of this manifestation.
Continuing to reinforce and advocate for the image of a permanent criminal and essentially subhuman class of people by maintaining Immigrations Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in its current form; the raids that rake psychological gashes into entire communities, the booming detention center industry, stopgap measures like 287g, virulently anti-Spanish language and anti-Mexican rhetoric blasted out over acceptable media outlets, as well as continuing to build up a heavily militarized border-this can end in nothing but more violence against and deaths of Latinos/as in the US, and on a growing scale.
There are those who turn away from trying to alter the course of something seemingly so large, or who simply grow more cynical and bitter with each new injustice. They would have you believe the US will never learn, that this government and this culture are incapable of remembering or acting on the very important lessons from which we bear national scars already; lessons that would prevent us from repeating yet another harm against yet another group of people of color; but in new ways and in a new year.
The Sanctuary Editors reject such a view in favor of self-empowered, self-organized social change. We know it will not be easy to turn this tide. But we must. Such a change is incumbent upon all of us and we will all pay a price if we do not succeed, with both a further lose of life, and our own humanity We must pass humane legislation, and demand that true justice play out in our courts. We must insure that civil rights be protected. We must loudly expose and forcefully challenge any pundits or politicians who are constructing a subhuman class with their words and actions, and as bloggers and activists who fight for human rights, we must hold our fellow activists equally accountable to take a strong stand on the right side of the bright line drawn by this tragedy. Luis Ramirez will never come back to his family. Let us ensure that his life was not lost in vain.