The federal trial of three Pennsylvania police officers accused of covering up the murder of an undocumented Mexican immigrant opened last week—reigniting critical discussion about the recent rise of anti-immigrant hate crimes. The officers—former Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Patrolman Jason Hayes—allegedly attempted to conceal the racially motivated nature of the 2008 murder of 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, who was brutally beaten to death in a park by a group of teenagers spouting racial slurs. At the time, Ramirez’s murder underscored a growing trend of anti-Hispanic violence in the U.S., which some attribute to increasingly anti-immigrant political rhetoric.
In recent years, hate crimes against Latinos have increased by 52 percent, a steep rise that Alternet’s Arun Gupta attributes to incessant “right-wing vituperation” and “caustic rhetoric.” In Arizona, where anti-immigrant sentiment has fomented into a bevy of retrogressive and prejudicial state policies, the number of reported hate crimes rose from 161 in 2007 to 219 in 2009. Tellingly, the recent rise in anti-Latino hate crimes runs counter to an overall decrease in reported hate crimes nationwide.
Prevalence of I-Word on television coincides with anti-immigrant hate crimes
At ColorLines, Mónica Novoa points out that a dramatic spike in the use of the word “illegals” in television programming last year coincided with both the passage of Arizona’s SB 1070 and a number of subsequent racially motivated murders:
- In June, Juan Varela—U.S. citizen and a third-genderation Mexican American—was shot to death in Phoenix by a man shouting “You fucking Mexican, go back to Mexico!”
- In July, Sergio Zapata-Zurita’s family was accosted at gunpoint in Washington by a man apparently obsessed with “illegal immigration.”
- In August, Martin Reyes—a Honduran immigrant and father of six—was stabbed to death in Baltimore by a crazed man who told police that he “hated Mexicans.”
The irony here is that, while heated discourse surrounding the measure may have contributed to a rash of anti-immigrant hate crimes last year, its implementation in Arizona has inhibited the local victims of those crimes from contacting the police—for fear that, under the new law, they will be arrested for being undocumented.
Hate crimes report censored to conceal role of official’s hate speech
Some localities have taken important steps to counter the rise of anti-Latino hate crimes, but at least one of those well-meaning efforts has been undermined by the anti-immigrant Right. Change.org’s Alex DiBranco reports that, in Suffolk County, New York, one ranking official’s affinity for anti-immigrant rhetoric may have compelled him to censor a potentially damning hate crimes report. Suffolk County’s problem with anti-immigrant violence has been in the news since 2008, when the racially motivated murder of an Ecuadoran immigrant highlighted Long Island’s epidemic of racial violence. Following the incident, Suffolk County formed a Hate Crimes Task Force responsible for monitoring hate crimes in the area, and issuing reports of its findings.
But County Executive Steve Levy, who is locally notorious for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, has been accused of editing more than 50 pages from the task force’s most recent report—many of which contained substantial criticism of his administration’s handling of immigrant issues, according to Mike Clifford at the Public News Service. Noting that Levy’s critics have long attributed the rise in anti-immigrant hate crimes to his extreme position on immigration, DiBranco speculates that Levy’s drastic censorship of the report is an attempt to conceal his own role in fostering violence.
Bigotry accusations divide the Republican Party
Following the recent Tucson shooting, the tragic potential of hateful political rhetoric has come to the foreground. The issue has become so heated that it threatens to fracture the Republican Party itself. In the aftermath of the tragedy, and in light of the party’s increasingly extremist positions on immigration, certain party leaders have defected from the GOP, accusing the party of fostering racism for political ends, John Tomasic at the American Independent reports. Most recently, former Colorado Republican Muhammad Ali Hasan and former Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes have spoken out against party bigotry directed at Muslims and Latinos, prompting conservative Latino organization Somos Republicans to launch an anti-bigotry campaign against its own party.
It’s a step in the right direction. But even as a minority of Republicans takes it upon themselves to critically examine the role of the party’s extremist positions and rhetoric, the deadly impact of the party’s institutionalized bigotry nevertheless remains remarkably under-recognized—even as it continues to claim innocent lives.