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Acquittal in Pennsylvania Killing Sparks Nativist Rally

Three weeks after an all-white jury in Shenandoah, Pa., acquitted two local high school football stars of beating to death a Mexican immigrant — a verdict that many observers called a blatant act of jury nullification — pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant forces alike are using the murder of Luis Ramirez as a rallying cry.

Last week, pro-immigrant forces cheered news that the U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into Ramirez’s death and the way local authorities handled the case. Earlier this month, a Schuylkill County, Pa., jury found high school football stars Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak not guilty of homicide, ethnic intimidation and aggravated assault. Both were convicted of simple assault.

A few days later, a coalition of immigrant-bashing groups announced plans to hold a rally against illegal immigration in Shenandoah on Saturday, May 30. The groups include United Patriots of America, a nativist extremist group based in Linden, N.J., that’s known for conducting surveillance of day labor centers, and You Don’t Speak For Me!, a group created and funded by the Federation for American Immigration Reform that purports to represent Hispanic-Americans. “My main concern is getting these illegals off the streets, out of this town, and bringing forth the legal Mexican-American community,” rally organizer Joe Miller told The Republican & Herald, a regional newspaper.

Saturday’s rally will mark the second major nativist rally in Shenandoah since Ramirez, a 25-year-old father of two, was kicked to death in July 2008 by white teens shouting racial epithets. Six weeks after Ramirez was killed, the nativist extremist group Voice of the People held a “pro-immigration enforcement” rally near the site of the murder. The attending crowd of roughly 50 included several members of the Keystone State Skinheads, a Harrisburg, Pa.-based racist skinhead gang.

The New York Times reported last week that racial tensions in Shenandoah intensified after the verdict, with racist threats, vandalism and fights on the rise.

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