A project of the Center for Community Change

A bit of justice for Luis Ramirez

This month has brought a bit of justice to the case of Luis Ramirez, the man beaten to death by three teenage boys last summer. Earlier this year, all three of the teenage boys were found not guilty of murder and acquitted of ethnic intimidation charges. All in spite of witness testimony of the beating that was rife with racial slurs and obvious racial motivations. They were found guilty of simple assault. Not surprisingly, this verdict was delivered by an all-white jury.

After this miscarriage of justice, groups like MALDEF petitioned the Department of Justice to intervene and file hate crimes charges in the case and in the last month there has been a bit of justice served in Shenandoah.

Five people, including three police officers, have been indicted in the fatal race-related beating of a Latino man in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Two indictments charge the five with federal hate crime charges, as well as obstruction of justice and conspiracy, authorities said in a written statement. A federal grand jury handed up the indictments last week, and they were unsealed Tuesday.

Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky are charged with a hate crime for beating Luis Ramirez in July 2008 while shouting racial epithets at him, according to the department. Ramirez died two days later.

“Following the beating, Donchak, Piekarsky and others, including members of the Shenandoah Police Department, participated in a scheme to obstruct the investigation of the fatal assault,” the Justice Department said. As a result, Donchak faces three additional counts of conspiring to obstruct justice and related offenses, officials said.

While this is huge news in terms of setting precedent for the prosecutions of hate crimes, I still feel this is too little too late and even a band-aid on what has grown to be a gaping sore on the face of small-town America.

Yes hate crime charges should be filed, yes I consider it justice to finally get the truth out about the cover-up that sought to keep the hometown heroes from harm. But at the core of this, there is the continued dehumanization of people of color and of immigrants. There is the hate that runs so deep that three high school kids could muster the sheer blind rage to beat a man to death with their bare hands and a kick to the head. And there was complicity. There were adults who knew this rage existed and knew the ugly truth but thought these boys deserved special treatment, that they were somehow above the law.

In the fight against this hate, the indictments are a start, but we have a long way to go.

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