It has been an agonizing summer for Latino residents of Staten Island. Since April, there have been 11 known instances of racially motivated violence against Latinos in the New York City borough, most of it taking place in the economically depressed Mexican-immigrant neighborhood of Port Richmond. This past Saturday, an 18-year-old Mexican immigrant named Christian Vazquez became the latest victim when he was attacked and beaten by three young African-American assailants who yelled anti-Mexican slurs and accused him of belonging to a Mexican gang. (In fact, Vazquez is active in a local group working against bias crime and gang activity, called Eye Openers: Youth Against Violence.) Currently one of the assailants, a 15-year-old Liberian immigrant, is in police custody and facing hate-crime charges of assault, robbery and aggravated harassment.
The most recent attack follows a rising pattern of black-on-Latino bias crime in the borough. In another representative case, on April 25, 46-year-old Rogerio Vazquez (no relation to Christian) suffered lacerations to his head during a slur-laden assault and robbery at the hands of a 19-year-old Asian woman and 21-year-old African-American man.
The rash of attacks in the area has led to the construction of a “police skywatch tower” to better monitor the streets, as well as the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Mexican Consulate, which have participated in a growing number of community forums on the problem.
But some local community leaders say that much more is needed.
“While the City has dramatically increased police presence in Port Richmond, where many of these attacks have occurred, this surge in police presence fails to address the root causes of this violence,” said Ana Maria Archila, spokeswoman for Make the Road New York, a Latino advocacy group. “We can’t continue to wish discrimination and bias away. New York City must take concrete steps to promote tolerance and expand opportunities for young people.”
The steps proposed by Archila’s and allied groups include more public town halls and hearings; public awareness campaigns about hate crimes and how to anonymously report them; and educational programs for teenagers, who make up a large proportion of the perpetrators.
Though violence between black and Latino populations is generally associated with gang activity in Los Angeles and high school conflicts there and elsewhere in California, the recent events on Staten Island illustrate that the problem is national in scope, especially when the communities border each other and are in direct competition for scarce local jobs. Attacks on Latinos have risen in recent years, as anti-immigrant rhetoric ratcheted up across the country. According to the FBI, anti-Latino violence shot up 40% between 2003 and 2007, dropping back slightly in 2008. The FBI has yet to release hate crime statistics for 2009.