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Cooling the Hate Wave
YCteen staff

Mexican immigrants in Staten Island are under attack. Since April, police have recorded at least 10 assaults on Mexican immigrants in the borough, and the main motive seems to be hate.

The victims were all Mexican males, ranging in age from their teens to their 50s, who were jumped while simply going about their business: A 26-year-old baker was coming home from a club when he was beaten with 2x4s by a group of men; a 31-year-old leaving a soccer game was beaten by five guys. These and other similar attacks have left a bloody trail of injuries, including a broken eye socket, a broken jaw, a fractured skull, and bleeding in the brain.

Most of the alleged attackers have been young black men, and in each case, the perpetrators hurled anti-Mexican slurs against their victims. Because of that, police are treating these assaults as hate crimes.

Crimes Against Communities

In New York, a hate crime is an offense committed against someone simply because of the victim’s “race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.” Penalties for hate crimes are tougher than for “regular” crimes. If a judge determines that these assaults were, in fact, motivated by racism, then she can hand down longer prison sentences.

Hate crimes are punished more harshly because they are considered more harmful to society. New York’s hate crimes act explained it this way: “Crimes motivated by…hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities.”

image by Bron Augustino

That is certainly happening in Port Richmond, the working-class Staten Island neighborhood where most of the attacks occurred. Mexican residents there say they’re worried and afraid. To try to prevent more attacks and calm fears, the police department has sent more than 100 extra officers to patrol on horseback, watch from towers, and investigate. So far, they’ve arrested seven people for four of the attacks. One, a 17-year-old, was recently indicted on hate crime charges.

Acting to Ease Tension

But the police work has done little to comfort residents. Community leader Terry Troia told The New York Times, “[Latinos are] worried that as soon as the police leave, they’re going to be set upon.” Staten Island residents know how difficult it can be to prevent hate from bubbling up into violence. Activists there say that many hate crimes have gone unreported or simply not recognized as hate crimes.

Some people have told reporters that they believe sudden demographic changes on Staten Island have fueled the recent racist attacks. Mexican immigrants have moved into the area in record numbers over the last decade or so. When a population changes quickly like this, racial tensions can sometimes arise as people compete over limited jobs and resources.

Others say that undocumented immigrants have been targeted not because of their race, but because they’re considered easy prey: They tend to carry cash and are often hesitant to talk to police. However, that doesn’t explain the brutality of the attacks or the anti-Mexican slurs.

In response to this wave of attacks, Staten Islanders have protested racism at rallies and candlelight vigils, through a campaign called “I Am Staten Island.” Residents, churches, activists, police, and politicians have joined to preach tolerance and develop strategies for preventing more hate crimes.

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