A few days ago two teens, accused in the fatal beating of Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania were acquitted of all serious charges by an all white jury. Shortly after Ramirez was brutally murdered, his grieving fiancée had a premonition about the outcome of justice in the case saying, "I know they're going to try to make him look like nothing, and try to justify what the kids did, even though there's no way they could justify this. I know I'm not gonna get the justice I deserve, 10-1 these kids are going to get probation or a slap on the hand. Because he's an illegal Mexican they don't care, right away he's less important."
"With the death of Luis Ramirez, immigration is no longer a question of economic and political struggle. It is now a struggle for the soul of America. One we must win."When I heard the verdict, I was taken back to a conversation from a couple of years ago when I stood aghast with all Americans as pictures rolled out from Abu Ghraib. I remember vividly talking with a friend of mine about it. He shook his head and said what we were all thinking, “Why did they do this?” It hit me hard, because I knew the answer. I shook my head with him and said quietly, “Because they could.”
When people mistreat others, when it happens systematically on a massive scale, like in Soviet Russia, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or Abu Ghraib, the questions are never how, but why. Why is it that people harm others like this? What is it that takes ordinary people and turns them to monsters?
Historians wrestle with it. Psychologists talk about national psychosis. Ordinary people construct millions of reasons. Always, we wrestle with why.
The answer never changes. It has been documented time and again. When we see others as less than human – killing them becomes less than a crime. When the attacked stop being seen as brothers, sons, fathers, mothers and sisters – torturing them becomes acceptable. When people are robbed of their humanity, turned into images, or beasts, they can be raped, robbed, enslaved.
When the other is not human, you can put prisoners on a box with electrodes taped to their hands. You can burn churches full of women and children. You can fill trains and lead them to gas chambers.
Again, our country must learn this lesson. The memory of Abu Ghraib is fresh in our mind, and James Byrd still mourned. Our history of anti-Semitism, anti-Irish, anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-NOT ME still scars this country. We must examine these scars, if we are to learn from our darkest moments.
On July 14, Luis Ramirez was murdered. Not solely because he was Mexican, or undocumented, or even something so trite as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luis Ramirez was murdered because those who killed him could. And they could because, to them, he was not American, not human.
We as a country have to stop creating demons in our midst. We have to stop identifying one or another as less than human. The sentiment that killed Luis Ramirez was the same that killed James Byrd. “You don’t matter. You are less than human.”
The talk radio hosts and FOX news pundits who daily scream “illegal” are equally as guilty as the ones who threw the punches. Reporters who quote and therefore legitimize hate groups like FAIR have blood on their hands. When Lou Dobbs says that the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce favor the export of American capital and production to Mexico and Mexico's export of drugs and illegal aliens to the United States – he’s contributing to an intolerance that makes violence possible. With the constant bombardment of vitriol, the hate mongers create an atmosphere in which people are no longer workers, children or sisters – they are illegals, beaners or spics. In the words of Robert F. Kennedy, when we learn to “look at our bothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.”
We are one country, not fifty states. We are one people, not a thousand ethnicities. We worship one God. And we are all human. The rhetoric that permitted Luis Ramirez’s murder must stop. Our common destiny as human beings must prevail. With the death of Luis Ramirez, immigration is no longer a question of economic and political struggle. It is now a struggle for the soul of America. One we must win.
Be sure to sign MALDEF's petition to the Department of Justice demanding justice for the murder of Luis Ramirez.
Gabe Gonzalez is Director of the Campaign for Community Values at the Center for Community Change.