Jul 31, 2007 - 11:49:24 pm PDT
Photo by Roger Werth
Armando Vazquez and Linda Miller Vazquez stand by the front gate of their Highlands home, displaying a bandana which contains both U.S. and Mexican flags. Before July 22's vandalism, the front of their home displayed both U.S. and Mexican flags.
Sometime early on the morning of July 22, someone crept up to the Highlands-area home of Armando Vazquez and tore down and stole his Mexican flag, along with the pole.
An American flag posted on the house was untouched.
The theft and vandalism is one of two crimes against Latinos that took place within an hour of each other that weekend. The other was an assault involving three white men who allegedly beat two Latino men in the 700 block of Tennant Way at 11:30 p.m. July 21.
Although Longview police do not believe the two incidents are related, they are treating the assault as an anti-Hispanic hate crime and are considering the flag theft a possible hate crime.
At the very least, the flag theft robbed Vazquez of some of his peace of mind.
"It's scary because you are sleeping and you never know who going to be coming in your house," he said.
Longview police caution that the flag incident shouldn't be blown out of proportion.
"The only racially motivated factor was that it was a Mexican flag," Longview police Detective Sgt. Mike Hallowell said. "That's the only indication; there was no other vandalism to indicate it was racially motivated."
"There is no way to know if this is really a hate crime," said Detective Doug Kazensky. "I would caution people against making that leap."
Still, Victoria Horman, 44, said she witnessed the crime and insists the person picked on Vazquez because he is Latino.
"I think it was a racial thing, I really do," said Horman, who lives next to Vazquez in the 200 block of 27th Avenue.
Horman, a Caucasian, said she heard a noise around 12:30 a.m. that Sunday and looked out her window to see a young "white boy" carrying a stick or pole, walking quickly toward the Vazquez home. Horman said he was probably about 21 years of age, tall and thin and dressed in baseball clothing, including cap, cleats and jacket.
He opened the gate, she said, and walked up to the front of the Vazquez home, where she couldn't see him from her window. She heard a "big old bang," then the perpetrator ran away. She didn't notice him carrying the flag.
"He knew what he was going there for, and why," Horman said. "It wasn't random."
The original police report, by officer Deborah Johnson, listed the crime as a "possible anti-Hispanic hate crime."
Horman was not initially interviewed by Longview police even though Vazquez said he told police Horman witnessed the crime. Tuesday, Horman said an officer was at her home interviewing her, after a reporter told police details of Horman's statement.
Humble roots, north and south
Vazquez, 43, and wife of three years, Linda Vazquez, 53, met at Community House on Broadway, the Longview homeless shelter, about five years ago. They've come a long way since then, but they're no strangers to adversity -- including previous burglaries.
Armando Vazquez is a Mexican citizen with a work permit or green card. He says he plans to apply for U.S. citizenship. Linda Vazquez is a Canadian-born U.S. citizen. They're paying a mortgage on a humble home -- with five decorous sombreros hanging on the wall -- mostly on what Armando Vazquez makes painting and as a handyman.
During one past break-in, Vazquez said, the perpetrator dumped all his fish food into the tank, killing 15 fish. A musician who has drums and other instruments, he was once visited by police responding to a noise complaint, but sees 27th Avenue as a friendly community, and tries to be the proverbial good neighbor.
"They need some help, I don't say no," he said, smiling.
Vazquez said he has been targeted for his heritage before, about three months ago by the Safeway on Ocean Beach.
"I hear some people before say 'wetback, go back to Mexico,' " Vazquez said. "I stopped and I say, 'Did you see me cross the river?' He said, 'No.'
"I say, 'If you weren't on the other side of the river with a towel to dry my back, then I don't got a wet back,' " Vazquez said. "I live here. I work here. I stay here."
The flagpole taken from Vazquez's home was made of PVC tubing and, like the wooden U.S. flagpole on the other side of the front door, attached to the house with nails and duct tape. Vazquez said he now wants to buy a 15-foot metal pole for his yard and fly both U.S. and Mexican flags.
"He going to have to bring a ladder in the middle of the night," he said of potential future vandals. Linda Vazquez said she's probably going to add a Canadian flag, as well.
Vazquez said he would never fly Mexico's tricolor above the Stars and Stripes.
"I don't like to put only Mexican flag there on the top -- I put always, both," Vazquez said.
While there are different interpretations of international flag protocol, it's generally accepted that the flags of two or more nations during peacetime should be flown on separate flagpoles, with the home nation at least as high as the other nations, according to the National Flag Foundation and other Web sites. Vazquez's display appeared to meet the criteria.
Police believe assault was a hate crime
In the July 21 assault, the two victims were Latino and the suspects used language that would indicate this was a hate crime, Longview police said. One of the victims was punched in the face and was struck with a baseball bat.
At approximately 11:30 p.m. July 21, Longview police responded to a fight in progress near Speedy Mart, 704 Tennant Way. A witness told dispatchers three white men were fighting with a Hispanic man, dragging him toward Seventh Avenue while another Hispanic man tried to intervene. The witness said there was a bat or some kind of stick involved in the fight. The three white men left the scene on foot in the direction of the Quality Inn before officers arrived.
Officer Mike Berndt said when he drove up, he saw three men who ran through a field when they saw his car. He said two of them wore blue jeans and boots and had shaved heads. One wore a white sleeveless T-shirt and the other wore a black jacket over a white shirt.
Police arrested the man in the black jacket, Chance Lynn Smith, 22, of Longview. Victims identified him as being one of the suspects in the assault. He was booked into jail but has been released pending further investigation. The other two suspects have not been apprehended.
Anyone with information that can help detectives with the investigation is encouraged to call 442-5800 and ask for Detective Sgt. Mike Hallowell or Detective Terry Reece.
A wider trend?
Racially motivated assaults and thefts are less common in the local area than vandalism. A mixed-race Kelso couple was targeted with racist vandalism on Sept. 27, 2005, when someone spray-painted racist slurs on their back door, cut the phone line and threw three large rocks through their window.
Police said recent crimes that included an ethnic or racial component tended to be minor vandalism, such as spray-painted swastikas, or brochures with white power slogans. Gang graffiti is not uncommon.
The federal Department of Justice's Web site defines a hate crime as "intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability. The purveyors of hate use explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence, and verbal threats of violence to instill fear in their victims."
Courtney Langner, director of the Ethnic Support Council, said she's heard reports of "a lot of tagging, graffiti, broken windows, more vandalism" with anti-Hispanic implications during her two years at the council.
"I think it's significant and I think it's telling," Langner said of the flag incident. "No person was harmed, but I think it's an expression of general sentiment, and if it is an expression of general sentiment, then it's still disappointing."
"We do have a population that believes it's okay to do these things," said Woodland mayor and Longview police officer Doug Monge, who is Latino. "This one, to me, didn't rise to the level it's being elevated to."
Reporter Leslie Slape contributed to this story.
Source: The Daily News Online