MIDWOOD–The truth is locked in the offender’s heart
It was billed as a chance for South Asian immigrants to learn from a cop and prosecutor what hate crimes are and how to report them. But by the end of the meeting in Brooklyn’s heavily Pakistani Midwood section, the lecturers were mired in legalisms, the organizers were squirming with confusion, and many in the audience seemed like they wanted to be anywhere but here, the place they thought they’d find help.
Racist taunts, violent assaults–these were hate crimes, right? But during the Q&A, Sgt. Michael Fanning of the NYPD and Kings County Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell demurred that foul language and violence aren’t necessarily covered by hate-crime statutes. No one was happy with that answer. But it was an honest one. When it comes to hate crimes, one quickly learns, laws have one way of interpreting conflicts. Immigrants freshly experiencing the complexities of race, ethnicity and turf in New York City live in an entirely different reality.
The hijabed housewives, the cabbies snacking on vegetable samosas, the civil rights activists–they had come here at the behest of the Council of Pakistan Organization, an immigrants’ rights group on Coney Island Avenue, and started out full of good intentions. Everyone agreed that reports of attacks against Muslims and people who look Muslim have plummeted in New York since the first weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. Post-9/11 assaults, such as taxi drivers being dragged from their vehicles, are now outstripped by occasional epithets on the order of “terrorist,” “towel head,” “Osama.”
For those who didn’t already know, Farrell explained an important detail about hurtful words like these: “In this country we have the First Amendment,” he said, as Council of Pakistan community organizer Meeka Bhattacharya, a recent graduate of Bard College, translated to Urdu. Accordingly, New York State’s hate-crimes legislation deems bigoted language to be protected speech. “For example,” continued Farrell, “it wouldn’t be a crime for me to put a Nazi flag on my front lawn.” Hateful words and symbols, Farrell explained, are only unlawful if they accompany a traditionally criminal act, like beating someone up or vandalizing a building with spray paint.
Some in the crowd looked perplexed. Others seemed disgruntled.
Impatience grew as Farrell warned that even when assaults and vandalism do occur, they’re hate crimes only when authorities can show that the perpetrator deliberately chose his targets because of their links to, say, a particular race, nationality or religion. “The stupidest thing you can do is open your mouth,” Farrell quipped. As an example, he described a Muslim who recently poured gasoline on a Brooklyn synagogue. In itself, that wouldn’t be a hate crime. But after the man spent an hour at the police station fuming about how he despised Jews, it was easy to slap him with a hate-crime charge. On the other hand, Farrell waxed mystically, if a perpetrator stays silent, “we’re never going to know” if he committed an ordinary crime or a hate crime, because “the truth is locked in the offender’s heart.”
The chairs were squeaking now as it dawned on the Pakistanis that all the hate-crime laws and training sessions in the world would not address another of their problems–one far more terrorizing than being called a terrorist.
A slender, somber young man with a half-healed gash on his head gave details in heavily accented English. “I was stabbed in February outside my home,” said Jamil Chaudhry, a livery driver who immigrated five years ago and now lives in Ditmas Park. “He tried to rob me and he chased me. He tried to come through my back door. The next night he hid in the hedges at 3 a.m. When I came to my door he stabbed me five times in the head. Six months ago another perpetrator stabbed my brother. But the police report everything simply as robbery.”
“Did the bad guys say anything about Pakistanis or Muslims?” asked Assistant D.A. Farrell. “No?” He tried to explain again about words and the absence of words. Without them, he said, a robber merely commits a crime of opportunity–even if the victim is a Muslim. Organizer Bhattacharya protested. “This has created a web of fear in the community! I can’t tell my community these are not hate crimes!”
But she would have to tell them. And as other audience members added their two cents to the story of the robberies, Bhattacharya realized there was something else she’d need to discuss, because if she didn’t, Chaudhry or someone else in the room would beat her to the punch. He was already venting now. “The person who stabbed me was black,” Chaudhry told the audience. “The perpetrator who stabbed my brother was black. I talk to my people. We think blacks attacking us is hate crime.”
“How can I talk about this?” Bhattacharya wondered after the meeting–more to herself than to anyone else. “How do I talk about hate-crime perpetrators of color, when I support the struggles of people of color?”
GREENPOINT–We got on our cell phones to call for more Polish guys
When the New York City Police Department first established a bias investigation unit a generation ago, no one knew how complicated the concept of hate crime would later become. According to conventional wisdom, Jews and their synagogues got attacked by non-Jews of all races and ethnicities. Crimes against gays were likewise ecumenical. But when it came to assaults on people of color, the bigots were presumed to be white. Labeling their transgressions with the special term “bias crime” would send a message that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated.
The white-on-black paradigm for hate crime was seared on New Yorkers’ consciousness by brutal incidents like the one in Howard Beach in 1986. A group of black men who went into a pizzeria in that white neighborhood were chased by local teenage boys yelling racial epithets and wielding a bat. Desperately trying to escape, one of the black men, Michael Griffith, darted onto a busy Queens highway and was killed by a passing automobile. Two years later, Yusef Hawkins, a black teen from East New York, visited Bensonhurst, then a largely Italian-American area, to buy a car. There, he encountered a mob of youths who accused him of entering the neighborhood to date an Italian girl who liked to go out with blacks and Latinos. As Yusef knelt and pleaded for his life, one of the mob shot him dead.
These and other incidents inspired intense outcry and street demonstrations. The media did run sporadic reports of blacks singling out whites for assault–like in late 1987, when a cab driver from Poland was robbed, punched and kicked in Washington Heights by young black men who yelled, “Howard Beach, man, let’s do it.” But these crimes did not become a public issue. Activists and theoreticians who publicly denounced white-on-black assaults often saw black-on-white incidents as economically motivated, or as reactions to racism rather than racist themselves.
Since then, however, assaults in which perpetrators are people of color have become more common–and victims tend to be immigrants from every imaginable origin. The change is a matter of sheer demographics. Nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers are now black, Latino or Asian. Among young people under 18, more than 75 percent are.
And it’s young people who are particularly likely to get involved in interethnic fights. At International High School in Queens, 15-year-old Johan Forero, whose family is from Colombia and lives in Woodside, attends sessions sponsored by Global Kids, an organization that promotes political activism among New York teens. After a recent workshop on bias crime, Forero recalled a row between his friends and another group of boys. It started over a girl but ended looking like interethnic warfare. “She had been going with a guy who I think is from India, but we wanted to go out with her,” Forero remembers. “The Indian got mad. He called his friends–also Indians–and we called our Colombian friends. After about three weeks both sides had gotten pretty big. There were 15 of us Colombians and maybe 18 Indians. We had a huge fight! The police had to come to break it up. It was impressive!”
Another Global Kids participant, Eva Brzostowska, who’s 16 and from Poland, describes rumbles between Poles and Puerto Ricans in her neighborhood, Greenpoint. “We get into fights all the time in the park,” she says. “Once, when my girlfriend and I were with two Polish guys, two Puerto Rican guys looked at us with attitude. We got on our cell phones to call for more Polish guys. The Puerto Ricans saw us calling and came back with 30 people. Our side brought baseball bats. So did the Puerto Ricans. That time it was just bats. But lately, people are bringing shotguns.”
Some violent incidents are attracting citywide notice. This winter in Bushwick, not far from where Brzostowska lives, a group of young Puerto Rican men verbally accosted several construction workers from Belarus, calling them “fucking Polacks.” Those insults quickly led to an altercation with bats and knives. In the end one of the Belarussians was dead, and police classified the killing as a hate crime.
A generation ago, the public did not take conflicts like these very seriously. Neither did the law. The NYPD’s bias investigation unit was not created until 1980, and then it was mainly in response to anti-Semitism–incidents typically involving adolescent boys tagging swastikas on property identified with Jews. In 1982, also in response to synagogue vandalism, New York State made it illegal to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm” someone because of their race, religion or national origin. If one group of young men were to brawl with another because of race or ethnicity, the aggressors could be locked up for up to a year.
But four years ago, after years of lobbying spurred by gay civil rights groups, the New York legislature embraced the idea of enforcing special penalties for “hate crimes”–incidents in which a victim is singled out because of characteristics like race, national origin, disability or sexual orientation. Now a perpetrator who strikes someone for being black or Jewish or gay can get a maximum of four years in prison, instead of just one if they hit someone without a bias motive. Penalties for other crimes are also greatly enhanced.
And then there was September 11. In its wake, according to FBI statistics, law enforcement reports of hate crimes nationwide against Muslims and people mistakenly thought to be Muslim skyrocketed: from 33 incidents in 2000 to 546 the next year. Most involved intimidation, assault without weapons and vandalism. Reports poured in during the weeks after the terrorist attacks. Then they tapered off so quickly that in 2002, the FBI heard of only 170 incidents–most of which occurred early in the year. Americans, it seemed, had gone vengefully berserk in the fall but calmed down by winter.
If local law-enforcement statistics are to be believed, New Yorkers were much more peaceable towards Muslims than other Americans were, even in the first hellish weeks after 9/11. Before last year, the NYPD did not count crimes against Muslims separately but instead folded them into a category called “anti-ethnic.” In 2000, the city tallied 22 anti-ethnic hate crimes. In 2001 the number almost quadrupled, to 85, but went back down the following year, to 27, and stayed steady in 2003. Last year, when the NYPD started listing anti-Muslim crimes separately, only 11 were classed in the new category.
CITY LINE–Crimes of opportunity
The low hate-crime stats are a source of pride for Captain Michael Osgood, chief of detectives of the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force. “The police in this city take about a million complaint reports a year,” Osgood says. “Only about 400 of them involve hate crimes. We have a very diverse and tolerant city.”
Many immigrant advocates challenge Osgood’s optimism. The city is a cauldron of hate, they say, with most bias crimes kept quiet. “Many are going unreported because people are scared,” says Partha Banerjee, who works with the New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) in Jackson Heights. Banerjee hails from India; his job with NICE is to help newcomers to this country with issues related to 9/11. They include what he calls “the climate of fear and intolerance” that surround the Patriot Act and the special registration and detention of young men from Muslim countries. Such policies, Banerjee says, have made immigrants afraid of the authorities and discouraged them from reporting hate crimes. As an example, he describes “a highly educated Muslim woman who lives in Jamaica, Queens. Her husband was beaten up five times after 9/11. They never reported it.”
But the woman, Lizi Rahman, said in a recent phone interview that while her husband, Sharif, has been robbed of his money and jewelry several times since he immigrated from Bangladesh, almost all the incidents happened years before 9/11. The one exception occurred last summer when he went for a walk near his house at 2 a.m., and a group of teens pushed him down and rifled his pockets. “We called the police,” says Rahman, who is a journalist for the Weekly Bengali, a local paper. “I’m not afraid to do that. I don’t think my husband would be afraid to call the police, either.” Rahman told the cops the incident could be bias related, but they rejected that theory. She said other Muslims in the neighborhood have also been mugged lately.
Some bias-crime forums have also mentioned a survey released last year by the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which sent out 11,800 questionnaires to Arabs, South Asians and Muslims, and found that most people who answered complained of discrimination after the World Trade Center disaster. The survey is often cited as evidence that New York has a serious hate-crime problem.
A closer reading, however, reveals that only 956 questionnaires were returned, and of those, only about two-thirds contained reports of discrimination. Most incidents–there were some 1,200 in all–concerned refusals to rent apartments to people or hire them when they applied for jobs. Only 453 reports involved harassment. The majority occurred right after 9/11, and most were verbal. For instance, one respondent told of seeing a sign that read “Honk if you hate Arabs.” Obnoxious and troubling words, surely. But under the law, not a hate crime.
The survey received major funding from the New York Community Trust. That group and other major philanthropies–including the Open Society Institute and the Tides, Nathan Cummings and Rockefeller foundations–granted millions of dollars in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to support education and legal action programs promoting tolerance and addressing bias crime.
The philanthropic infusion of capital has funded much-needed popular education about Islam and multicultural issues, and it came in the wake of some seriously brutal anti-Muslim and South Asian incidents nationally and in New York. But all the scrutiny has also helped make clear that interethnic tension these days is a lot more complex than anyone previously reckoned with. Nasty words, turf brawls, robbery–bad blood that often can’t be stanched by bias-crime law. And then, there is the skeleton in the closet that no one except immigrants wants to talk about: the perpetrators of color.
Hardy Marston is one. In August 2002, Marston, an African-American 18-year-old, helped a Dominican friend beat a Bangladeshi man to death with a chair leg and baseball bat. Police characterized the killing as a hate crime. But the backstory to the killing is complex. It starts in City Line, a gritty area on the Brooklyn-Queens border whose commercial strip is tickytack Liberty Avenue. During the last decade, City Line has been settled by Bangladeshis who’ve joined a more vintage population of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and blacks.
Even in the late 1990s, says Bangladeshi immigrant and store owner Shams Uddin, Bengalis in City Line were being harassed by Latinos and blacks when they got off the A train after work. Elderly Muslims were teased and pushed on their way to the local mosque. Nowadays, harassment has evolved into robbery of people coming home from work, and theft and harassment of businesses.
Uddin’s 21-year-old son, Abdus, is a recent victim. Late last year, while he was working in his father’s pizza restaurant on Liberty Avenue, neighborhood teenagers tried to break the window by throwing ice. Abdus’ warning to stop elicited a round of punches that left him with injuries to his face. None of the kids uttered any bigoted words. They never do, even when they rob.
So far as the police are concerned, these are “crimes of opportunity.” The perpetrator picks a victim of a certain ethnicity or race because he’s an easy mark. These are not hate crimes, according to the cops.
In City Line, Bangladeshis think otherwise. “It’s always teenagers doing it,” Shams Uddin says. “But their parents support it.” There’s hate, he says, and it stems from competition. “Bangladeshis are hardworking people and save money,” he says. “We’ll pay more for things like houses. If the Spanish and the blacks offer $10, we pay $20.”
Khaled Ali, 23, is a Bangladeshi who works at a little store on Liberty Avenue that rents Indian videos. In response to the predations of the black and Latino kids, he says, some Bangladeshi boys are starting to fight back. That is what led directly to the homicide in August 2002.
“It’s like a gang thing now,” says Abdus Uddin. He recites the details of the murder as they’re told among South Asians in City Line. “Some Bangladeshis were having a festival and there was also a Dominican parade that day. Some Dominican kids came to the Bangladeshi festival, looked at the Bangladeshis the wrong way and said a few biased things. The Bengali kids got mad and followed the Dominicans. The Dominicans blocked a Bengali kid, then the Bengali kid ran over a Dominican’s foot with his bike. The Bengali went and got his cousins. Everyone started fighting. The cops came and broke it up. But the kids got back together. Then the Dominicans went and got their friends.”
One of those friends was Marston, who joined 20 other teens, mostly Dominicans, who were wielding baseball bats, hockey sticks, iron rods and bamboo sticks. During grand jury testimony, Marston said he was just trying to have “a fair fight” against a group who’d insulted one of his buddies. But the person he helped kill had nothing to do with the conflict. He was 37-year-old Mizamor Rahman, a Bangladeshi immigrant who lived in City Line and worked in Manhattan as a waiter. On the night of the brawl, Rahman had finished his shift and was walking from the subway to his apartment. The Dominicans and their friends saw him talking on his cell phone. Marston mistakenly thought Rahman was one of the Bengali cousins, phoning for reinforcements for the brawl.
Marston also erred about Rahman’s religion. “My friend…got hit by these Hindus,” he told the grand jury. “I saw one of the Hindu guys…so I hit him.” Hindu is not Islam, of course. Nonetheless, the police classified the killing as a hate crime, and it was publicized, locally and internationally, as an anti-Muslim outrage related to 9/11.
It would have made more sense to relate it to the Sharks and the Jets. That’s what quietly happened last year when Marston went to trial. “We had problems trying to prove that the motivating factor was racial bias,” says Javier Solano, the Kings County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Marston. “So we did not press hate-crime charges.” Instead, Marston was tried and convicted for gang assault. He is now serving a 14-year-sentence. A co-defendant, Rafael Santos, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter–also without added hate-crime charges. He pulled 12-and-a-half years prison time.
An almost identical scenario played out a few months after Rahman’s death, on the other side of Brooklyn. This time, an 18-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant and college student from Borough Park, Mohammed Hossain, was killed during a fight with several Latino adolescents from neighboring Sunset Park. Again, the conflict apparently had started earlier in the day, then escalated at night when the Latino boys uttered derogatory remarks. Hossain had been in trouble at John Jay High School a few years earlier for a fist fight; now he ran home with a friend to get a bat. The Latinos grabbed the bat, and when the dust settled, Hossain was dead. Thousands of Bangladeshis gathered at the site of the killing. Some complained to the press that Latino kids from the area were regularly harassing and robbing them.
But to the Bangladeshi community’s frustration, police denied from the outset that Hossain’s murder was a hate crime. Charles Dorantes, the teenager accused of killing Hossain, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and gang assault. Dorantes’ friend, Javier Amigon, is also charged. Their cases are pending.
CORONA–It’s disrespectful, so you have to respond. That’s how street fights start.
If you want to appreciate how disconnected from everyday experience the hate crime laws are, consider this: The Latino-on-Bangladeshi killings in Brooklyn weren’t treated legally as bias offenses. But a fairly minor Queens assault last year is going that route–with all the attendant outcries, community vigils, and special opprobrium heaped on the accused.
Two Dominican-American teens, 18-year-old Corona resident Ivan Placido and his friend Alex Batista, 16, are accused of a hate-crime assault against Junaid and Jawar Javed, teenaged Pakistani brothers who were leaving Corona’s Masjid Alfalah mosque last fall during Ramadan. According to press accounts following the incident, it allegedly began when a group of Dominican boys from the neighborhood near the mosque passed by and “glared” at the Javeds, who live in the same rough-and-ready area. Punches were thrown, and at some point a Dominican said, “I’m going to get you, Taliban.” One Javed brother ended up in the emergency room with a swollen eye and cut lip. Batista and Placido were charged with assault and hate crimes. If the charge had been just assault, their punishment would have ranged from no prison time at all to a maximum of one year. But with the hate crime enhancement, each faces from one-and-a-half to four years behind bars.
The Javed boys’ father would not let them talk with City Limits. On their lawyers’ advice, Placido and Batista declined to discuss the details of their cases, which are pending. But Placido says they will plead not guilty to the hate-crime charges.
Placido acknowledges that an altercation occurred. But as they sat on a recent Sunday in their modest kitchen two blocks from the mosque, he and his family described their frustration at how what they called a “regular street fight” got wrongly defined as a hate crime. “The fight wasn’t because [the Pakistanis] were Muslim,” Placido said. “There’s never been any problem with anti-Muslim feeling in this neighborhood. Not even after 9/11.”
“I moved to this neighborhood in the late 1970s, when there were hardly any Dominicans. We have Pakistani friends here. We get along with everyone,” added Ivan’s mother, Milagros Placido.
“Around here, teenagers are ‘street.’ And being street has nothing to do with religion,” explained Ivan’s 17-year-old sister, Pamela, a junior at John Bowne High School in Flushing.
“On the street,” said Ivan’s aunt, Floralba Ozoria, “people will look at you bad.”
“Their eyes follow you after you pass,” said Pamela. “It’s disrespectful, so you have to respond. That’s how street fights start. They’ve been going on forever. How many around here are between Spanish and whites or Spanish and blacks, and no one says a word? But between Spanish and Muslims–that’s a hate crime!!??”
“Look at my son–he’s peaceful. Without prejudice!” said Milagros Placido. “This has really hurt him.”
“I had a job at the Fulton Mall, working with black people,” said Ivan. “But after my boss read in the papers about what supposedly happened, he fired me. He didn’t want an employee who was charged with hating Muslims. This has ruined my reputation. It’s ridiculous!”
The family’s not alone in thinking the hate-crime charge doesn’t make sense. City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, a former cop whose district encompasses Corona, believes the Dominican teens were “not acting from bias, though they were a little out of control. That’s no excuse, but I do understand.” Monserrate says that even the imam of the mosque, Hafiz Paracha, called the incident “minor and isolated.” (Paracha did not respond to phone messages.) The council member also doesn’t think that anti-Muslim bias is much of an issue in his neighborhood. “Things have been pretty calm in my community,” he says. “Up until this, I never heard of any problems at the mosque.”
The Corona incident provoked a much stronger reaction from immigrant-rights advocates. The New Immigrant Coalition for Empowerment organized an anti-hate-crime march, and it held community meetings where speakers urged that bias perpetrators be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Interviewed later, NICE organizer Banerjee–who has never met with co-defendants Placido or Batista–called the teens “thugs.”
Asked whether it concerned him that so many accounts of hate crime in New York these days implicate young men of color, Banerjee said that NICE “doesn’t want to single out any ethnic groups.” Sin Yen Ling, a staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund who specializes in anti–hate-crime work, was also asked about the issue recently and refused to comment. “It’s wrong and sensationalist to identify perpetrators by race or ethnicity,” she said.
PORT RICHMOND–Bridging Mexicans and morenos
Immigrants themselves talk constantly about who is attacking whom. In Midwood, City Line, Borough Park, Jamaica, Bushwick, Greenpoint and elsewhere, the phrase “hate crime” goes hand in hand with “Puerto Rican perpetrator,” “Dominican attacker,” and whatever word various languages have for “black.”
In northern Staten Island, the word is moreno. It’s Spanish, because immigrants there with the biggest perceived hate-crime problem are Mexicans. Undocumented day laborers who’ve settled in Port Richmond are distraught about assaults on them by African-American teens: The Mexicans are getting robbed, beaten and brutally cut during robberies. Police refuse to classify these attacks as bias crimes, but that’s how the Mexicans define them. So do some community organizers. Perhaps because Mexicans are not Muslims, these activists have been able to bypass the political wooliness of September 11 and deal forthrightly with on-the-ground racial issues.
“We’ve always felt rejected by the morenos,” says Marcela Soto, who runs a hole-in-the-wall candy shop on Port Richmond Avenue that sells imported Mexican sweets. Rev. Terry Troia, who organizes immigrant day laborers at a storefront near Port Richmond Avenue called El Centro de Hospitalidad, connects Soto’s fledgling business to the story of recent immigration. “This area was on the skids in the 1980s, with drug dealing and boarded-up stores,” says Troia. “The Mexicans arrived in 1994, and they started spending money in the neighborhood. Then, after 9/11, the closing of the borders made it very hard for them to go back to Mexico. So they started buying stores here in Port Richmond. All these businesses you see here now”–and there are many, with names like Mirador, Estrellas, Mariachi–“were opened by Mexicans in the last two years.”
Soto believes that some in the black community are jealous. “Or they don’t know us,” she muses. What she’s sure of is that young Mexican men are being robbed, beaten and cut by young black people in the neighborhood. Marcos, a young day laborer who helps Rev. Troia at El Centro, is a recent victim. Marcos does not want his full name printed because he is undocumented. On Christmas Eve last year he was stopped by several black youths who asked for money. “I had only three quarters. They took them, then they cut up my hands,” he says and shows his palms, which are hatched with hard, ritualistic white lines. Another day laborer who declined to give his name doffed his baseball cap and revealed a massive scar on his scalp. “Six of them cut me,” he said. “They didn’t say anything. But I hear people in the laundromat, talking about how they hate us.”
“We’ve reported some of these as hate crimes,” says Rev. Troia. But the NYPD has classified them as robberies. Meanwhile, it has dispatched additional police to Port Richmond to patrol and to give immigrants tips on avoiding assaults.
Last summer Troia organized a new group, the Port Richmond Anti-Violence Task Force, to start dealing with the crimes against Mexicans. The group picked up steam after last September, when Staten Island was rocked by the case of Rachel Carter, a black college student who was attacked by white youths, then reportedly discouraged by police from filing a complaint. In the wake of that incident, Staten Island experienced several more hate crimes: white-on-black, black-on-white and everything in between. In response, Manhattan-based civil rights activist Norman Siegel started coming to Staten Island to help organize the Staten Island Committee Against Bigotry. The new group is made up of black and white civil rights activists, including longtime members of Staten Island’s NAACP.
As a result of this interchange, the Committee Against Bigotry has gotten interested in the violence against Mexican day laborers. One of the most concerned members is Dora Berksteiner, an African-American native of Staten Island who lives in Port Richmond. She admits to being shocked at the situation in her own neighborhood–“I had no idea until I heard Terry talk about it!” Berksteiner sees the day laborers as victims of anti-immigrant prejudice, who are doubly at risk because most are undocumented and thus fear going to the authorities. She has vowed to confront the problem head on. “If you see Mexicans being attacked not by whites but by African Americans, you realize bigotry is much bigger than what we believe.”
At a recent meeting of the committee, not all members were on Berksteiner’s page. An elderly African-American man used an unconsciously violent metaphor as he suggested that Mexicans “cut” into Americans’ livelihoods. “Why should we give up jobs to someone who works for less than what we will?” he asked rhetorically. “They cut the wages down–that is what’s got people riled up. I’m for helping people. But not people who are going to cut us. Just leave each other alone. Don’t bother anybody.”
“You don’t even know when you’re bothering somebody!” retorted Berksteiner. “When you say somebody’s taking jobs, all the facts are not in! We have to educate ourselves!”
Berksteiner began her own education by dropping by the Centro storefront one evening after work. There, she inspected Mexican men’s scars while listening, through a translator, to their stories of being attacked. Now she wants to organize patrols of black community leaders who will walk the streets at night, sending a message to their youth that “this behavior won’t be tolerated.”
And Berksteiner is intrigued by youth organizing being done by Troia and the Anti-Violence Committee, w