Friday, June 26, 2009

Interview with Noose Attack Victim, Robert Cantu

Video courtesy of Voto Latino Blog (h/t Manny), which offers the following commentary:
Voto Latino believes that the often hateful rhetoric that surrounds immigration debate has created a climate in which more and more American Latinos are targets of hate crime. In fact, the FBI has reported 40% rise in hate crimes against Latinos since 2003 and 62% of all hate crimes in the U.S. are targeted at Latinos.

Voto Latino has decided to track these hate crimes and document stories from around the country. A story from Mount Vernon, Ohio caught our attention because unlike many hate crimes against Latinos we hear on the news, this one wasn't against an undocumented immigrant and didn't end tragically. Perhaps that's why this story has been getting so little national coverage.

Seventeen-year-old Robert Cantu, who is half Hispanic, shared with us his story about how he was dragged through a parking lot with a noose around his neck before bystanders saved his life. His story is proof that hate crimes are happening to every generation of Latino Americans in even the most seemingly peaceful towns across America.

We wanted you to hear the story directly from Robert, so Voto Latino found Robert through our network of volunteers and asked him to share his story with us via Skype. We also wrote details of the conversation in an article below.

Mount Vernon is a small town of approximately 16,000 people, with little access to WiFi or webcams. We weren’t sure an interview would be possible, but we were able to locate a local resident, Claudia De Leon, to help film Robert’s story. Voto Latino thanks Claudia and Robert’s mother, Marci, for making the interview possible.

Despite his experience, Robert remains positive and says many people in his community are showing him support. Robert is a brave young man with a message: “Take a stand for yourself, be proud of who you are.”

If you have a story relating to hate crimes or prejudice and would like to share it with us, email
About a year ago, I wrote about an incident that turned far more tragic than that of Robert Cantu's, under the title You reap what you sow:
Thanks to my man Arcturus in a comment earlier today on a related post, I wish to pass this story on to y'all about a young man who was beaten to death by half a dozen goons. His crime? Being of Mexican descent. All those years of eliminationist rhetoric have produced their bitter fruit. I've been on this for about as long as I've been blogging, and really if one were to go back long enough, on to this since my teens. The words we say can and do translate into action.

Eliminationism seems to be an almost exclusively right-wing endeavor. The nativist variety has been given quite an airing to the point to where its extremism has become part of the mainstream. It is nothing more or less than raw white supremacism. Always has been; always will be. The perps in this incident, I'd be willing to wager, were fed a diet of lies about how the US is being "invaded" by "illegals" who pose an alleged threat to their futures of happy motoring and consumerism. Nothing can be further from the truth once one actually bothers to look at the data. But nativist hatred is very much faith-based and resistant to reason. The Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanans of the world will not be confused by facts (and don't even get me started with regard to their kindred spirits among the Stormfront crowd).

Naturally in this particular sorry incident, in spite of the fact that there are witnesses stating the perps were shouting racist slurs as they beat Luis Ramirez to death, there are those among the community's elites who simply cannot acknowledge that these kids were racist. Juxtapose this excerpt from an interview with a witness, Arielle Garcia:
He was at our house all day that afternoon. And it was around maybe 11:00, he asked us to take him uptown to drop him off, whatever, he was going to go home. So, we leave him at the Vine Street Park, and we drive away, Victor and I, and about two minutes later he called us and told us to come back, that people were beating him up. So we get back as fast as we could. And when we get there, he was—like the fight was over, like the boys were walking away, but they were still screaming like racial slurs, like “Go back to Mexico!”
with this excerpt:
But [Mayor Thomas O'Niell] said late last week that he would be stunned if the investigation reveals a racially motivated beating.

"I just can't believe that's the case," he said then.


Borough Manager Joseph Palubinsky acknowledged that some in town resent Latino immigrants for crowding families into borough homes or taking jobs.

But he said that feeling is not unique to Shenandoah and that it is not shared by most people in town.

"I don't believe there are racial problems in the borough," he said. "Wouldn't they (Latinos) be leaving if that were the case?"

Palubinsky said he knows the families of the young people involved in the event and that none is a bigot.

"These people don't harbor any feelings like that," he said.
In other words, "nothing to see here; move along." The police response, by the way, was underwhelming, as Arcturus was mentioning to me:

AMY GOODMAN: And what did the police say? Did the police show up that night?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yeah, they showed up. First, the ambulance did, and they took our friend to the hospital. And about five minutes later, the police came, and I guess they were looking—I mean, we kept telling them where the kids ran, but they didn’t—they didn’t run towards there. I mean, they kind of stayed where it all happened. And I told them the names and everything.

AMY GOODMAN: And, well, this was more than a week ago. Have they been investigating since?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Yeah. And like, still nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did they say—when you showed them the direction that the kids had run, why did they not go after them at the time?

ARIELLE GARCIA: I don’t know. They told me that it wasn’t their priority right now.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “their priority”?


AMY GOODMAN: Where was your friend at this point? Where was Luis Ramirez?

ARIELLE GARCIA: He was gone. He was in the—on his way to be [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: What was their priority? Did they say that to you?

ARIELLE GARCIA: No. They were pretty rude, some of them. Not all of them, but most of them were pretty rude to me.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean they were rude?

ARIELLE GARCIA: Like, I told them where the kids ran, and they wouldn’t go after them, and they told me that “Somebody said there was someone with a gun here, and we have to search your car.” And they searched Victor, like they put his hand behind his back, and like they put him against—

AMY GOODMAN: Victor is your husband?


AMY GOODMAN: The boys ran off. Was it all boys?

So much for "protect and serve" eh? I'd like to end with some words I found via The Sanctuary:

This story is important because this family’s tragedy—and the lesser tragedies of the boys who were so motivated by fear and hatred of the “other” that they beat another human being to death—represents the experience of millions of migrants living in this country in today’s poisonous environment.

An environment that has been cultivated over the years by an organized political movement. An environment that results in impunity for killers like Joe Horn—provided the victims are from the underclass still labeled “illegal” as a matter of editorial policy by our so-called liberal media. A climate that permits pregnant mothers to be shackled, forced to give birth in police custody, and then torn from their newborn infants—again all for being present in the U.S. without authorization and, perhaps more importantly, for being Latina.

The racial motivations of the perpetrators/oppressors in each of these scenarios cannot reasonably be disentangled from the immigration status of the victims. The punitive immigration laws that target people like Ramirez and DeLaPaz were enacted largely from racial motives—from fear of the waves of brown political and economic refugees produced by longstanding, short-sighted U.S. intervention in Mexico and Central America. And those same fears—fear of displacement and of unfamiliar cultures—have been fanned for political gain into flames of hatred from the embers of the World Trade Center by the restrictionist movement and the federal government.

As the local Shenandoah paper noted in a recent editorial:

[T]his tragic incident is not so much about who is responsible for America’s failed immigration policy as it is about the right of human beings to — live.

If only this message could be communicated to the rest of the country. The emerging Sanctuarysphere is willing to try.
There should be no doubt that the hateful rhetoric has created the climate in which hate crimes like those mentioned above can occur. As I have been reading, and listening to Robert Cantu's words, I realized it was time to dust off an invaluable book by social psychologist James M. Jones, Prejudice and Racism. In discussing racism, Jones demonstrates that we must consider racism as not merely individual, but also, as he put it, institutional and cultural. As an aside, one can find some overlap between Jones' conceptualization of individual, institutional, and cultural racism and the distinction between interpersonal, organizational, and structural violence. I think a connection between racism and violence is quite apt - it seems quite obvious in the cases we are discussing - since racism in its blatant and more insidious forms is directed toward harming those who happen to belong to another group based on such characteristics as skin color.

We actually can see all three forms of racism discussed by Jones quite active in the above stories. On the individual level, we have the hate crimes themselves - we can gauge the behaviors and attitudes of the participants quite readily, from the racial slurs to the acts of interpersonal violence. However, it is clear that individual racism doesn't occur in a vacuum, but has its foundation in our cultural Zeitgeist - which one can gauge from an underlying philosophy that (mostly) implicitly promotes white supremacy to its various cultural artifacts in the arts, literature, popular media, and so forth. I say mostly implicitly, as some of our cultural leaders in the sciences and humanities can be pretty blatant in their pronouncements. Recently I've been culling through a great deal of material on the origins of our modern conceptualization of race, which has its origin in the concept of "the great chain of being" and will as time permits revisit the words of European and American intellectuals regarding race over the centuries and how those have impacted us today.

In addition to the cultural racism, there is clearly an institutional racism at work in the hate crimes described above. In particular, examine the reactions of local law enforcement when such crimes are reported (to call it underwhelming is perhaps being charitable), in which not only do law enforcement personnel fail to investigate, but will resort to victim blame. Similarly, examine how those cases that actually make their way to the judicial system get handled. The perpetrators of hate crimes inevitably seem to get by with little more than the proverbial slap on the wrist, and in some cases manage to avoid conviction altogether.

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