By Barry Morrison
Director, ADL Eastern Pennsylvania/Delaware Region
This article originally appeared in Hazleton Standard-Speaker on August 7, 2008 RULE
The senseless beating of Luis Ramirez of Shenandoah did not happen in a vacuum.
Although many would like to view it as an isolated incident or a simple street fight gone wrong, this tragedy seems to reflect an intolerance and hatred that has infiltrated the immigration debate; and has increasingly set the stage for the kind of violent rhetoric and physical brutality that reared its head this July in Shenandoah.
A 2006 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report revealed that the immigration issue has revived and emboldened right wing extremist groups. Racists ranging from neo-Nazis to Klansmen to racist skinheads have co-opted the anti-immigrant movement, turning immigrants, primarily Hispanics, into the prime target of their venomous speech and behavior. Examples include:
* "Slowly but surely we are headed toward the solution that I have been advocating for years: KILL ILLEGAL ALIENS AS THEY CROSS INTO THE U.S. When the stench of rotting corpses gets bad enough, the rest will stay away." – New Jersey Racist radio talk show host Hal Turner, October 31, 2005.
* "They (Hispanics) are barbarians, they are our enemies, they want to destroy our civilization and we have to fight them. We need to organize better and be more open activists; otherwise, I only see race war in the future". – post by "AllisioRex"on the neo-Nazi Web forum, Stormfront, July 2005.
* White supremacist Steve Boggs received the death sentence for murdering three fast-food workers in Mesa, Arizona during a robbery in 2002. Boggs wrote to a Mesa police detective that he wanted to "rid the world of a few needless illegals". – May 2005, Arizona
Perhaps more disturbing is the adoption of dangerous, extremist rhetoric by the mainstream. A closer look at the immigration debate by the ADL in 2008 reveals anti-immigration advocacy groups, politicians, and media figures spreading fear and propaganda and using vitriolic language once limited to White supremacists. Examples include:
* Describing immigrants as "third world invaders," who come to America to destroy our heritage, "colonize" the country and attack our "way of life."
* Using terminology that describes immigrants as part of "hordes" that "swarm" over the border. This dehumanizing language has become common.
* Portraying immigrants as carriers of diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, Chagas disease (a potentially fatal parasitic disease), dengue fever, polio, malaria.
* Depicting immigrants as criminals, murderers, rapists, terrorists, and a danger to children and families
* Propagating conspiracy theories about an alleged secret "reconquista" plot by Mexican immigrants to create a "greater Mexico" by seizing seven states in the American Southwest that once belonged to Mexico.
Such poisonous attitudes and mythical beliefs have pervaded towns and cities across the nation, and unless countered with concerted attention and action, will continue to fuel prejudice, discrimination, and hatred towards Latinos and other minorities, and lead to weakened, fractured communities. Some of the most important and concrete steps were outlined by ADL for key Shenandoah leaders last week, namely:
Strong leadership is paramount and must set a clear and courageous tone; consistently and vigorously denouncing expressions of hate. Leaders must serve as models of correct attitudes, as well as prompt people to take proper action on their own.
Communication is at the root of any constructive effort, and ample opportunities, through forums and advisory committees, must be provided so that grievances can be aired and accomplishments can be celebrated. Communications which allow access to authorities and cross boundaries of race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion provide comfort, support and relief, particularly for those who have historically been denied a voice.
Education is essential, particularly for our youth, but also for teachers, parents, clergy people, law enforcement, elected officials and business leaders. Education must underscore the evils of prejudice and illustrate the value of differences and the opportunities presented by diversity.
Finally, it is imperative that the criminal justice system is held to account, operates transparently and conveys the grave consequences for acts of hatred and prejudice. Law enforcement and those in the business of preserving community safety must demonstrate unequivocally that misconduct will be dealt with seriously and expeditiously.
Bias and hatred infect the entire community, not just the intended target. If anything good is to come out of Mr. Ramirez's heartbreaking death, it would be the commitment of Shenandoah to make comprehensive and sustained efforts to transform their community. This is a chance to send a message to the entire nation that diversity is a beauty and strength of communities and if handled appropriately, adversity can be a positive turning point. Hopefully, Shenandoah will not let this once in a lifetime opportunity pass it by.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.