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No Justice for Vincent Then, No Justice for Luis Now

New America Media, Commentary, Carmina Ocampo Posted: May 08, 2009

Editor's Note: Last week, two of the young white men who allegedly killed Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Penn. were acquitted by an all white jury. The case mirrors the first federal hate crime prosecution involving an Asian American. Carmina Ocampo is a Skadden fellow and staff attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) of Los Angeles. Immigration Matters regularly features the views of immigration advocates and experts.

Last July, Luis Ramirez, a Latino immigrant who worked in a factory, was brutally killed by a gang of drunken white teenagers motivated by their dislike of the growing Latino population in their small coalmining town of Shenandoah, Penn. Two of the young white men who killed Luis were recently acquitted by an all white jury of all serious charges including third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation.

The facts of this case sounded all too familiar to those of us lawyers who work on civil rights cases. They mirror the facts at the heart of the 1982 Vincent Chin hate crime case.

Luis Ramirez was taunted with racial slurs and beaten to death during an altercation with a group of drunken white teenagers. Similarly, Vincent Chin was a Chinese American man also in his 20s, who was brutally killed in Detroit by two white autoworkers who mistook him for being Japanese and shouted racial slurs at him, saying, Its because of m*** f*s like you that were out of work.

Luiss murder occurred during a time of increasing anti-immigrant sentiment directed primarily towards Latino immigrants, exacerbated by the economic crisis. Vincent Chins murder took place during a climate of intense anti-Asian sentiment directed at the Japanese who were blamed for taking jobs away from American workers. Helen Zia, a well-known Asian American civil rights activist described the early 1980s as a dangerous time to look Asian. The same may be said for Latinos today.

In both Luiss and Vincents cases, the killers argued that their actions should be excused because they were drunk, the victims were the aggressors, and they were merely exercising self-defense during a drunken brawl.

During the state trial, Vincents killers were sentenced to only three years probation. His brutal death and his killers slap-on-the-wrist sentence shocked Asian Americans throughout the nation. Asian Americans launched a nationwide campaign, led by the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), to demand just sentencing of the killers and federal prosecution of the murder as a hate crime.

As a result, Vincents case became the first federal hate crime prosecution involving an Asian American victim. Unfortunately, Vincents killers were acquitted of all charges in the federal case, including committing a hate crime, by an all white jury in Cincinnati. Vincents killers never served a day in jail. In light of the unjust verdict recently awarded to Luiss killers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) similarly are urging the Department of Justice to conduct a full investigation and prosecute the teenagers for a federal hate crime.

The Vincent Chin case is taught today in Asian American studies classes everywhere, inspiring a whole new generation of Asian American youth to take an interest in Asian American history and activism. Last weekend, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival screened Who Killed Vincent Chin, the 1987 Academy Award-nominated documentary by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena about Vincents death, and the phenomenal community organizing that took place in its wake. One of the films most striking and powerful images is of Vincents mother, Lily Chin, one of the bravest heroes in the Vincent Chin campaign. In the film, Lilys face contorted in pain and grief as she spoke out about Vincents death and demanded justice for her son. We can only imagine the suffering that Luiss mother, wife, and two young children must be going through today.

May is the Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month. As part of APA Heritage Month, we owe it to Vincent and our community to remember how Asian Americans came together with other communities of color to demand justice for Vincent Chin. This time, we must do the same for Luis Ramirez.


Related Articles:

Justice for Luis Ramrez

Latinos in Danger

Forbidden Love in Shenandoah, PA: Behind Beating Deaths of Immigrants



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