Anti-Latino Hate Crimes


Anti-Latino Hate Crimes

THE FBIS UNIFORM CRIME REPORTING PROGRAM COLLECTS DATA ABOUT HATE crimes, and the agency then prepares statistical reports regarding these violations. Between 2003 and 2007, when massive immigration-reform demonstrations occurred, hate crimes against Latinos increased by 40 percent (American Bar Association 2013b, 27). California, home to over 14 million Latinos, in 2010 had a 47 percent increase in hate crimes from the previous year (American Bar Association 2013b, 27). Federal statistics for 2010 reveal that 65 percent, or 681, of the 1,040 ethnicity-based incidents involved anti-Latino bias (U.S. Department of Justice 2011a). During 2011, the FBI statistics revealed 6,216 single-bias incidents, with 47 percent motivated by racial and 12 percent motivated by ethnicity/national-origin bias (U.S. Department of Justice 2012c). The 891 incidents based on perceived ethnicity or national origin decreased to 57 percent of anti-Hispanic bias from the previous year (U.S. Department of Justice 2012c). White offenders accounted for 70 percent of anti-Latino violence (American Bar Association 2013b, 27).

Although hate crimes reported to police declined overall from 2003 to 2009, the ethnicity/national-origin bias numbers remained steady at 12 percent (U.S. Department of Justice 2012c). For instance, undocumented persons, for obvious reasons, usually avoid police contact. Additionally, many police agencies neglect reporting bias-motivated crimes, even when the evidence indicates the presence of ethnicity-based animus (American Bar Association 2013b, 27; Perez 2011, 12). For instance, in 2006, an officer in Annapolis, Maryland, declined hate-crime charges against two whites who stabbed two Latinos while yelling ethnic slurs at them. The officer reasoned that “since Latinos are technically classified as white, the attack wasn’t racially motivated” (Mock 2007).

When Congress began to review comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, the topic led to rhetoric from right-wing politicians and talk show types with their ominous predictions that drug cartels and terrorists were entering the United States along with the “illegals” who were taking jobs from Americans. The Minutemen militia movement grew to dangerous levels where many citizens went to the border areas armed and ready to “secure our border.” Aliens were blamed for all the nation’s ills, including the economic crash, high unemployment, and increased crime (Chomsky 2007). These verbal attacks instigated the murders of three Latinos—Luis Ramirez, Marcelo Lucero, and José Osvaldo Sucuzhañay—within a six-month period in 2008 (Johnson and Ingram 2013, 1630–35).

Unfortunately, extreme and hot-tempered media talk continues to come out of the mouths of allegedly responsible people, such as a Republican state representative in Kansas who suggested that if shooting feral hogs to limit their migration from other states succeeds, then this might be the solution to the “illegal immigration problem” (LULAC 2011). In addition to violence, racial profiling against Latinos increased, including the outrageous victimizations of federal judge Filemon Vela in Texas (Yardley 2000); Raul Castro, the former governor of Arizona; and a state judge in Arizona. The two jurists each suffered the humiliation twice.

The chances for immigration reform in President Obama’s second term took a political back seat to reelection concerns among candidates from both parties. If Congress does provide a remedy, racial tensions, racial profiling, and violence will likely continue. One leading expert and his coauthor suggest that “effective immigration reform might help ameliorate the civil rights costs of the current immigration enforcement scheme” (Johnson and Ingram 2013, 1615).

The Etymology of the Term “Lynching”

The practice known as “lynching,” as discussed in this section, includes actions classified as hate crimes as well as those that involve other cruelty and denials of basic rights. Historically, in relatively few cases, whites killed other whites in a manner that qualified as a lynching. While this summary punishment began with nonlethal punishment, it eventually escalated into deaths by hangings, shootings, beatings, and burnings. In other cases, the mob would forego the need for a trial. If the lynchers were white, the person’s race, whether African or Mexican, usually guaranteed guilt. In the popular sense, the term “lynching” encompasses acts that result in punishment without due process of law. A mob-led group, for example, would hold “court” and find the person guilty on less than reliable evidence. The absence of a lawyer, much less a judge, did not matter. “Justice” was still done.

The term “lynching” has been a part of the American lexicon for almost two centuries. In the 1850s, a journalist complained about Latino lynchings and angrily referred to American democracy as “lynchocracy” (Kanellos and Martell 2000, 89). By 1885, the definition included punishment “without the forms of law; specifically, to hang by mob-law.” Vigilantism also became known as lynching, since this practice included private persons who inflicted punishment for crimes or offenses without due process of law (Culberson 1990, 37–38).

In the popular literature, most of the extreme cases discussed atrocities against persons of African descent, whom racist whites, mostly in the South, could not accept as “free men” after the Civil War. The lynching mentality shamefully remained for more than a century, undoubtedly motivated by losing the institution of slavery. Utilizing digital census figures, a historian recently estimated 750,000 total deaths during the Civil War. Almost half of those killed were Southerners (Gugliotta 2012). In revenge, Southerners engaged in lynchings, often backed by groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This group’s membership infiltrated many Southern institutions, eventually leading to a pattern of killings that the courts deemed a “custom.” A notorious example involves the 1960s collaboration by police and KKK members in the torture and lynching of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.1

Documentation of Latino Lynchings

Details surrounding the lynching years and Latinos have been difficult to document for various reasons. First, white scholars neglected this inquiry, particularly due to the difficulty in identifying Latino victims who appeared as whites under the black-white racial paradigm. Second, it appears that scholars simply ignored the treatment of atrocities against Mexicans. Third, the limited awareness of linchamientos, the Spanish equivalent for lynchings, can also be explained by the fact that news of these ethnic incidents appeared in Spanish-language community newspapers (Delgado 2009, 304).

In an 1850s editorial entitled “Inquisición” (Inquisition), journalist Francisco P. Ramírez “decried the vigilantism of the Americans who had come to displace the native population and the penchant of some for lynching Mexicans.” Ramírez urged Latinos to learn English and become active in government and business. Ramírez eventually became so pessimistic and bitter about the treatment of his raza (people) that he urged Latinos to abandon California (Kanellos and Martell 2000, 89, 91).

Besides newspapers, Latinos depended on oral culture to learn of their mutual ethnic sufferings. Richard Delgado, the coauthor of the first book about Latinos and the Law (Delgado, Perea, and Stefancic 2008), notes that the acts of violence were memorialized through corridos (ballads), actos (skits), and cantares (poetry) that discussed the tragic deaths of brave Latinos who defied Anglo authority (Delgado 2009, 304). Sung at parties, funerals, and other events, these stories continued through this oral history. The late Américo Paredes, a University of Texas professor of English and anthropology, documented the corrido approach in Latino culture and history in his book With His Pistol in His Hand (Paredes 1958, passim).

Carrigan and Webb researched the lynchings of Mexicans for the period 1848 to 1928. They admittedly encountered difficulties in documenting Latino lynchings, which they knew existed from other research. Carrigan and Webb point to a 2002 book by Philip Dray on the lynching of black Americans. Even though Dray’s book won an award, he made not one single reference to Latino lynchings. In his book, nonetheless, he mentioned other ethnicities (Carrigan and Webb 2003, 412). In contrast, Ken Gonzales-Day’s Lynching in the West (2006) provides scholars with a treasure trove of leads regarding the sordid history of the Latino lynchings in California and the West.

Frontier Justice Lynchings in the Post-1848 Period

Even prior to the war between Southerners and the Union, Latinos had been subjected to lynchings in the West and in Texas, beginning as early as the 1820s. After the U.S. acquisition of California and other land in 1848 via the war with Mexico, violence against Latinos worsened. For one, California did not have a criminal court until August 1850. Prior to this time, California gold miners operated under an ad hoc system of justice in which they heard evidence and did “the right thing.” They held jury trials on Sundays, often near a store, on their day off. Occasionally drunk and disorderly, the miners would choose a judge and jury and determine the fate of the accused and the punishment (McDowell 2007, 329–30, 335, 339, 341, 348).

Often, these lynching courts would execute an innocent person. If the mob wanted a hanging, they would get one. In one case, three Indians and a Mexican discovered burning the bodies of two “Americans” (Anglos) were sentenced to death by hanging. As one of the men was still struggling for breath, a county judge persuaded the crowd to hand over the man because the coroner had found the group innocent. It appears that the suspects, following an Indian custom, were merely cremating the decomposing bodies (McDowell 2007, 342, 347).

Although the accused on the frontier received an outward appearance of a jury trial, the proceedings occurred without formalities. In a few documented cases, the mob executed the convict within a few hours or on the next day. In one case, the mob skipped the niceties of a trial and lynched two Mexicans accused of killing an Anglo. If a Mexican committed a crime against another Mexican, the “authorities” would arrest the suspect, but the mob would usually spare the life of the accused. Documentation of an Anglo committing a crime against a Mexican is almost nonexistent, perhaps because Anglos were generally neither arrested nor prosecuted (McDowell 2007, 338, 349–50).

A review of the “white” category revealed the lynchings of 50 Mexicans in four Southwestern states. Some agencies deemed persons of Mexican descent “white” even if the skin color and the social treatment indicated otherwise. More detailed studies estimated the lynching of at least 597 Mexicans between 1848 and 1928, with Texas and California alone accounting for 470 victims. The history of this horrific period leads to the conclusion that the lynching of Mexicans is not “a footnote in history but rather a critical chapter in the history of Anglo western expansion and conquest” (Carrigan and Webb 2003, 413–15).

Caucasians rationalized their lawless behavior by citing the “absence or impotence” of legal enforcers in the western territories, leading to the practice of taking “the law into their own hands.” Even when police forces existed, Mexicans were nevertheless taken from courtrooms and prison cells so that the mob could administer its form of “justice.” In one case, vigilantes in New Mexico seized a Latino in police custody and hanged him. The man had required hospitalization for injuries received while fleeing from an assault of a female. The local newspaper approvingly declared that “the degenerate Mexican” got what he deserved. Based on expressions such as this, lynchings are discussed as early hate crimes, even though they also qualify as denials of due process (Carrigan and Webb 2003, 411, 415–16).

Why Latinos Became and Remain a Target of Racists

The authors Carrigan and Webb used the term “Mexican” in their study of lynchings since this was the term widely used during the era covered in their study (2013, xi–xiii). These Mexicans and other U.S. Latinos were different in many respects from the majority population, and these differences led to racially based discrimination. The Anglo bias eventually resulted in segregated Mexican Schools, denial of employment, unequal pay, peonage, exclusion from public accommodations (Salinas 1971), and even the extreme refusal of a burial in cemeteries socially reserved for dead white people (Garcia 2002, 108). Regardless of the differences that existed between races and ethnicities, nothing could justify the racist treatment carried out against Latinos by calling them wetbacks, greasers, spics, half-breeds, pepper-bellies, animals, and every other obnoxious description the racist mentality could conceive.

Many explanations exist for this odious treatment by Caucasians. Even before Texas sought independence from Mexico, the line had been drawn in the sand. Cultural and racial conflict immediately surfaced once Anglos migrated to Mexican Texas. Anglos encountered Mexicans, a group comprised in small part of European-Spaniard blood but a larger population of pure Indian and mestizo blood. Only a few years after the independence of Texas, a prominent U.S. senator vigorously objected to the inclusion by annexation of a “mixed blood” group of “colored” persons (Weber 1973, 135, 137).

These racial differences worsened after the 1848 treaty of peace. The “greaser” label became a frequent depiction of the Mexican people (Bender et al. 2008, 3). Worse, this obnoxious term even became engraved in California’s Anti-Vagrancy Act of 1855, also known as the “Greaser Act,” which described “greasers” as the “issue of Spanish or Indian blood” (Gonzales-Day 2006, 24–26). The new Anglo residents in the West extended little or no respect to non-Anglos, even to those Californios who were not only better educated but also wealthier, at least for a while, than the new Caucasian residents of the region (Pitt 1966, 202).

In the Arizona Territory, another conquered area, the white population filed a “Protest Against Union of Arizona with New Mexico” in 1906 before Congress in an effort to avoid combined statehood. Citing the racial and linguistic differences between the people of Arizona and New Mexico, the Arizona whites emphasized that Arizonans are 95 percent “Americans,” a code word for whites (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 1972, 76–82). This exclusionary construction, since time immemorial, has left U.S. Latinos out of the competition for full citizenship benefits.