This Is Mexico . . ..

I’ve been in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for four days now, and have only now had the time and ability to write a short post. I had intended to write a cheerful and upbeat post about how great Puerto Vallarta is, but made the mistake of checking my email first.

In my inbox were emails from several people who had sent me links to the latest news on the verdict in the Luis Ramirez case, which I’d blogged about since Ramirez, a Mexican, was beaten to death in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. On a July night last year, he was walking home with a teenaged girl when he encountered a group of teenaged boys in a park. Words were exchanged—not a few of them racist insults hurled in Ramirez’s direction—and the situation escalated into an all-out fistfight that ended with Luis Ramirex laying on the ground unconscious and foaming at the mouth. He died in hospital two days later from severe head injuries sustained during the fight.

The jury was tasked with, among other things, sorting out who exactly delivered the blow that killed Luis, since at least three of the teens fought with him directly. They found the accused not guilty of all but the least serious charge: simple assault. I understand that sometimes, people make mistakes. But some mistakes are more serious than others. For example, someone might make the mistake of drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car. If they make it home safely, fine. But if they accidentally run over a pedestrian and kill him, they do not get off simply because they made a mistake. Yet here we have a case in which a human being’s life was taken by people using their fists and feet as weapons, yet they got off scott free.

So, as I sit here watching the orange sun set over a glassy bay, I find myself writing a very different post from the one I had intended. I wanted to write about how amazing Puerto Vallarta is. Every single person I have met here has been nothing but wonderful: warm, hospitable, generous, and good-humored. It was everywhere around me, once I left the taxi-and-package-tour-hustle-and-bustle of the airport. This was what I had planned to write about . . . before I checked my email. Now, the kindness and warmth of the Mexicans I’ve met stands out even more starkly when viewed against the backdrop of the Luis Ramirez case: I cannot imagine a situation in which six Mexican teenagers would find cause to make a disparaging remark towards me or any of the people I’m here with, let alone attack any of us so viciously as to leave us brain-damaged and dying in a park.

I know I’m here as a tourist and that tourist dollars are the lifeblood of the local economy. But I’m also here as a foreigner. I look physically different from every single Mexican I’ve seen, and my Spanish is far from good enough to allow me to pass. Yet nobody has yelled a racial slur in my direction, and nobody has told me—out of contempt or frustration—to learn Spanish. And, while I’m sure Puerto Vallarta has its share of crime both petty and violent, I haven’t found myself in a situation in which I’m made to feel uncomfortable or threatened because of my skin color, hair texture, or non-flueny in the local language.

After all, despite the obvious benefits tourists bring to the towns along Mexico’s coasts, there is more than enough reason for Mexicans to be hostile towards me. I’m a foreigner, a tourist, and an American. There is a long history of tension between our two countries, and I’m sure some tourists and foreigners comport themselves in a less-than-decent way with the locals. But none of this has been enough—in my admittedly limited time in Mexico—to cause the locals to treat me with suspicion, scorn, resentment, or outright hostility. When I attempt to communicate in my piss-poor Spanish, they listen patiently, correct me when I ask for correction and, when I eventually give up and ask if they speak English, graciously switch to fluent or near-perfect English.

I imagine that, had the teenagers who were found not guilty of beating Luis Ramirez to death ever found themselves in Mexico, they would have met the same reception as me and my fellow travelers. I imagine that Brian Scully too—the one who made the comment that started the fight and who yelled racial epithets while his friends were beating Luis Ramirez—would have been treated with nothing but kindness, warmth, and good humor.

Tragically, the reception Luis Ramirez got in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania was markedly different from the one I am getting from his compatriots in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In fact, his experience could not have been more different, a difference made even more grotesque by the fact that his attackers were ultimately found to be not responsible for his death.

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Luis Ramirez’s Killers About to Stand Trial

Derrick Donchak (top), Brandon Piekarsky (middle), and Colin Walsh (bottom), have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died two days later from head injuries sustained during the attack.

Derrick Donchak (top), Brandon Piekarsky (middle), and Colin Walsh (bottom), have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died two days later from head injuries sustained during the attack.

The Republican Herald reports that jury selection in the trial of Derek Donchak, Colin Walsh, and Brandon Piekarsky will begin on April 22, with the trial itself set to start on April 27.

Last summer, the three accused attacked Luis Ramirez after they ran into him and a young woman in a park. The woman turned out to be the younger sister of Ramirez’s fiancee, whom he was walking home. Donchak, Walsh, and Piekarsky had—according to witness testimony—been drinking malt liquor in the woods near the park.

The ensuing attack left Luis Ramirez unconscious and foaming at the mouth. One question that will hopefully be answered by the trial is whether it was Colin Walsh or Brandon Piekarsky who delivered the fatal blow. Walsh’s sucker punch knocked Ramirez down and left him unconscious on the ground, where he lay when Brandon Piekarsky delivered a final kick to his head. The unconscious Ramirez was transferred to hospital, where he died two days later. 

Elsewhere, it is being reported that Colin Walsh has agreed to testify against his co-accused. There is also some confusion about whether or not the charges against him will be/have been dropped in exchange for his cooperation. Hopefully more information will come out about the details of the various plea arrangements.

The announcement that justice will be done in the Luis Ramirez beating-death case comes as good news for supporters of the rule of law. And, as anti-immigrant rhetoric is ratcheted up and anti-immigrant hate crimes continue to increase, it is important that those who are found to have committed hate crimes are punished according to the law.

The law does not require anyone to like anyone else, but it does state explicitly that a person may not physically assault or kill another person. Hopefully justice will be done.

Wheels of Justice Appear to be Turning in Luis Ramirez Murder Case.

Three teens charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez will be charged with third-degree murder, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation.

Three Shenandoah, Pennsylvania teens charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez will be tried for third-degree murder, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation.

CNN reports that Brandon Piekarsky (left), Colin Walsh (center), and Derrick Donchak (right) will stand trial on charges related to the beating death last month of Luis Ramirez, a Mexican migrant. The case cast a national spotlight on the Pennsylvania town of Shenandoah, where the Latino population has encountered hostility from the White community.

Sixteen-year-old Piekarsky and 17-year-old Walsh will be tried “on counts of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation.” Both will be tried as adults.

Eighteen-year-old Derrick Donchak “has been ordered to stand trial on aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other offenses.”

According to eyewitness testimony from Ben Lawson, a 17-year-old friend of the three accused,

Ramirez [the victim] was fighting with one of the suspects, Derrick M. Donchak, when another, Colin Walsh, sucker-punched the victim. A third suspect, Brandon Piekarsky, then kicked Ramirez in the head while he lay motionless in the street.”

Lawson also testified that he, the three accused, and two other friends had been drinking in the woods on the night of the attack that resulted in the death of Luis Ramirez. Lawson went on to say that the next day, they met at Brandon Piekarsky’s house to plan what they were going to tell the police:

We made up a plan that we we’re going to tell the cops that nobody kicked him, that there were no racial slurs, there was no booze, and Brian got hit first.”

Having failed to protect Luis Ramirez in life, we can now only hope that the legal system will dispense justice to the people responsible for his death. More importanly, let’s hope the outcome of this trial makes other would-be hate criminals think twice before beating someone to death simply because he looks different from them.

Luis Ramirez Death Brings Calls for Tolerance

At Sacred Heart Church in Allentown, Marcos Urbana (left) talks about the meaning of Luis Ramirez's death in Shenandoah. With Urbina are (from left) the Rev. Manfred K. Bahmann, the Rev. David Kozak, Jesus Ramos and Fernando Almazan. (Rich Schultz/Special to The Morning Call / August 11, 2008)

At Sacred Heart Church in Allentown, Marcos Urbana (left) talks about the meaning of Luis Ramirez's death in Shenandoah. With Urbina are (from left) the Rev. Manfred K. Bahmann, the Rev. David Kozak, Jesus Ramos and Fernando Almazan. (Rich Schultz/Special to The Morning Call / August 11, 2008)

From The Morning Call:

In Shenandoah, the Schuylkill County borough where the beating happened, residents and religious leaders called for unity and tolerance. They acknowledged ethnic tensions within the changing community makeup but said borough residents had a lot of good to offer.

The mood at the Allentown vigil was more political, with Hispanic advocates criticizing Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli for helping to create an anti-Hispanic climate.

The fatal beating occurred on July 12, as Ramirez, 25, walked home with his fiancee’s sister. Police said the teenagers ran into Ramirez at 11:30 p.m. and told the woman to ”get your Mexican boyfriend out of here,” according to court documents. When Ramirez responded, ”What’s your problem?” the fight began.

The teenagers beat Ramirez so severely he never regained consciousness, authorities said. Two days later, the father of three died.

Colin J. Walsh, 17, and Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16, were charged as adults with homicide, ethnic intimidation and related offenses. Derrick M. Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and related crimes. All live in Shenandoah.

Police said a fourth teenager, who is 17, was being charged as a juvenile for other offenses.

On Sunday, the Rev. Brunilda Martinez expressed disappointment at the size of the crowd: About 60 people gathered for a ”Reconnecting Healing Service” Sunday afternoon at First United Methodist Church in Shenandoah.

The bad publicity the borough is getting could translate instead into opportunity for showcasing its strengths, she said. ”That is a challenge for us. You say what? I can prove you wrong,” said Martinez. ”We are going to make a new Shenandoah for our children and our grandchildren.”

Outside Sacred Heart Church in Allentown, nearly 50 people gathered, holding candles near a sign that said ”No to Racial Discrimination.”

Marcos Urbina, president of the Mexican Cultural Association of the Lehigh Valley, said Barletta and Morganelli seemed to forget their families had at one time also been immigrants. He criticized those who said Ramirez was in part to blame for being in the country illegally.

”This man isn’t dead because he was here illegally,” Urbina said. ”This man is dead because he was Hispanic. It could have been me or anyone else.”

Ann Van Dyke, assistant director of the state Human Relations Commission, said the small coal town fits the profile of a community more prone to fostering hostilities.

In such places there might be fear about the changing demographics, Van Dyke said. She said there’s a separation based on race, ethnicity or economics, youth feel alienated and often, the place may be struggling economically.

”The eyes of the country are on you. Now is the time to define Shenandoah,” she told attendees in Shenandoah.

In a report released earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center found 33 hate groups in Pennsylvania in 2007, up from 27 in 2006.

The Alabama-based civil rights group linked that increase in part to growing anti-Hispanic sentiment, pointing to FBI data that showed 819 hate crimes against the ethnic group in 2006, a 38 percent increase from 2003.

Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, who teaches Puerto Rican studies at Brooklyn College, said while there may be an anti-Hispanic feeling now, it’s always some group.

”It’s not just now. It’s not just Shenandoah,” said Stevens-Arroyo, who spoke in the borough.

Racial and ethnic tensions have existed as long as humans have been around, he said.

Allentown Councilman Julio Guridy said Barletta’s attempts to get legislation fining landlords who rent or employ illegal immigrants was instrumental in creating a situation where people could feel comfortable giving in to their hate.

He called on state and national leaders to get serious about passing meaningful immigration reform.

Justice Department Joins Investigation into Beating Death of Luis Ramirez

Derrick Donchak (top), Brandon Piekarsky (middle), and Colin Walsh (bottom), have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died on Monday from injuries sustained during the attack.

Derrick Donchak (top), Brandon Piekarsky (middle), and Colin Walsh (bottom), have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died two days later from head injuries sustained during the attack.

The Associated Press reports that the federal government—through the US Department of Justice—“has opened an investigation into the fatal beating of [Luis Ramirez,] a Mexican immigrant in [Shenandoah,] a small northeastern Pennsylvania town.”

The case has been assigned to FBI agents in Allentown and the criminal section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the department and the FBI confirmed Wednesday. Justice Department spokeswoman Jamie Hais would not say what prompted their involvement.

I wonder if the fact that the case is being investiged by the criminal section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division means that they think it’s a hate crime? Only time will tell.

Speaking of which, it is pretty telling that some White Shenandoah residents—like the police chief and the burrough manager—are denying that the killing of Luis Ramirez has anything to do with race.

Here’s Police Chief Matthew Nestor’s take on the killing:

From what we understand right now, it wasn’t racially motivated. This looks like a street fight that went wrong.”

And here’s what Borough Manager Joseph Palubinsky had to say:

I have reason to know the kids who were involved, the families who were involved, and I’ve never known them to harbor this type of feeling.”

Unsurprisingly, the defense attorneys expressed similar views. Roger Laguna, who’s defending Colin Walsh said he did not think it was a hate crime, despite the racial slurs uttered by Luis Ramirez’s attackers as they beat him to death. And Frederick Fanelli, Brandon Piekarsky’s lawyer, echoed Police Chief Matthew Nestor’s sentiments, saying he is “surprised and disappointed” that his client faces a homicide charge, attributing Ramirez’s death to a “street fight that ended tragically.”

Luis Ramirez, a Mexican migrant, lies in a coma after being severely beaten by White teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The photo was taken just hours before Ramirez died from injuries sustained during the beating.

Luis Ramirez, a Mexican migrant, lies in a coma after being severely beaten by White teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The photo was taken just hours before Ramirez died from injuries sustained during the beating.

Odd, isn’t it, that a defense attorney and a police chief share the same opinion on a crime? Although my legal expertise is limited to a few episodes of Law & Order and CSI, I know that it’s rare for police and defense attorneys to agree on much. So either the episodes I watched were wildly unrealistic or there’s something funny going on here. Either way, I’m sure it’s good news for the boys who killed Luis Ramirez that their defense attorneys and the police chief are on the same page.

But not all White Shenandoans justify the killing or defend the killers. CNN reports that there are a number of mixed-race couples in Shenandoah, many of which have produced biracial children. Luis Ramirez himself had two children with a White woman and was also raising her daughter from a previous relationship.

Nonetheless, the Latino reaction to the killing has been somewhat less optimistic, judging from the response of lawyer John Amaya of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which held a vigil Tuesday in Ramirez’s memory.

It legitimizes our concerns, that Shenandoah — while it might be a small, little town in Pennsylvania — the significance (of the slaying) really rises to the national stage.”

“When we hear it spewed every night on CNN or radio talk shows, real people hear it and they take matters into their own hands. These children, they turn into monsters.” 

This case, like others, has left me wondering how it is that something that is not a hate crime to some people is percieved as nothing less than a hate crime by others? In cases like this, I find it’s better to look at it from the standpoint of the victim, not the perpetrator. In this case, we have not only racial intimidation but also a long history of White racial violence—against Native Americans, Black people, Mexicans, Jews and other immigrants—that sets the backdrop for the Luis Ramirez killing.

Regardless, I hope the feds can shine some light on this case. More importantly, I hope the DOJ has assigned some Black and Latino agents to this case.

More Information Comes Out On Luis Ramirez Killing.

Derrick Donchak, 18, Brandon Piekarsky, 16, and Colin Walsh, 17, have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died on Monday from injuries sustained during the attack.

Derrick Donchak, 18, Brandon Piekarsky, 16, and Colin Walsh, 17, have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died on Monday from injuries sustained during the attack.

Since last week, when three White teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania were charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez, a Mexican migrant, more information has come out regarding the circumstances under which Ramirez was beaten to death. ABC News reports:

. . .

According to a police affidavit, the defendants and three 17-year-olds encountered Ramirez, 25, and a teenage girl in a park the night of July 12.

The youths goaded Ramirez and the girl, saying, “You should get out of this neighborhood” and “Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here,” documents said. After Ramirez and the girl began walking away, someone yelled an ethnic slur at him, court documents said. He responded, “What’s your problem?”

A fight ensued, during which police said Walsh punched Ramirez in the face. The victim fell and hit his head on the street, leaving him unconscious, after which Piekarsky kicked him in the head, police said.

All three suspects used ethnic slurs during the fight, which ended with Ramirez in convulsions and foaming at the mouth, authorities said. The attackers fled the scene; Ramirez underwent surgery but died July 14 of head injuries.

Piekarsky and Walsh were being held without bail, while Donchak was held on $75,000 bail.

Lawyers for Piekarsky and Walsh said their clients are not guilty and that there was no evidence to support the homicide charges. They also said they would try to have the case removed to juvenile court.

Luis Ramirez, a Mexican migrant, lies in a coma after he was severely beaten by White teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The photo was taken by Ramirez's parter hours befored he died from injuries sustained during his beating.

Luis Ramirez, a Mexican migrant, lies in a coma after being severely beaten by White teenagers in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The photo was taken just hours before Ramirez died from injuries sustained during the beating.

Roger Laguna, Walsh’s lawyer, said the police affidavit “pretty much describes chaos, and what you have then after the fact is somebody trying to sort through that and attribute certain acts to certain individuals.”

He said that although slurs might have been used, the fight was not motivated by ethnicity.

“I think any time there’s a fight and any time you have one ethnic group fighting another, there’s going to be racial slurs,” he said. “I’ve seen that since I was a kid on a playground 20 years ago, but they never called it ethnic intimidation until very recently.”

Frederick Fanelli, Piekarsky’s lawyer, said he is “surprised and disappointed” that his client faces a homicide charge, attributing Ramirez’s death to a “street fight that ended tragically.”

. . .

“A street fight that ended tragically?” That might be the understatement of the century. I suppose we’re expected to believe that Luis Ramirez’s death was just the result of a misunderstanding. Right. At least charges have finally been brought against these guys. Now let’s see whether the legal system, having failed to protect Luis Ramirez, will succeed in dispensing justice to the people who killed him.

Update on Luis Ramirez Killing.

Derrick Donchak, 18, Brandon Piekarsky, 16, and Colin Walsh, 17, have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died on Monday from injuries sustained during the attack.

Derrick Donchak, 18, Brandon Piekarsky, 16, and Colin Walsh, 17, have been charged in the beating death of Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Ramirez died on Monday from injuries sustained during the attack.

Almost a full week after Mexican migrant Luis Ramirez was beaten to death in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, charges have finally been brought against three suspects. The Republican Herald reports that two teenagers have been charged with criminal homicide and aggravated assault:

Two teens were charged with homicide in connection with the July 12 beating and subsequent death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala in Shenandoah. A third faces other charges related to the incident.

Brandon Piekarsky, 16 and Colin Walsh, 17, both of Shenandoah, are incarcerated in Schuylkill County Prison after being arraigned before Magisterial District Judge David A. Plachko, Port Carbon on Friday morning.

Piekarsky and Walsh are both charged with one count each of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, simple assault, and ethnic intimidation.”

Read the full aticle here.

Eyewitnesses say at least six boys took part in the beating that cost Ramirez his life, so I’m curious to see if any more people will be charged in this case.