“Probably Done by an Illegal”

I have this theory that if you rummage around long enough in any major news story in the United States over the last 25 years – the OJ Simpson murder trial, the 2000 Florida recount, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the September 11th attacks, etc., – you’ll find Latinos at the center of it.

The theory holds true in the case of the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson – a tragedy that resulted in the killing of six people and the wounding of fourteen, including Giffords.

Soon after the shooting, word spread to a gathering of the Maricopa County GOP in Phoenix. In attendance was DeeDee Garcia Blasé, the president and founder of Somos Republicans, a national organization of Hispanic Republicans. Garcia Blasé was shocked at the news, but doubly shocked by what followed. (more…)

Anchor and Terror Babies: Really a Problem?

The “anchor-terror baby” blitz has begun. We’ve seen the script before: create a straw man (i.e. “terror babies”) to build up and easily tear down, or pick a wedge issue (i.e. “anchor babies” or the “ground zero mosque”) in an election year that forces the other side (usually Democrats) to go on the record in defense of a group that can’t speak up for itself (i.e. undocumented immigrants or Muslim Americans). These wedge issues are effective because inevitably there will be some Democrats in touch races that don’t want to risk looking weak on national security, and they will come out against their fellow Democrats.

Think about it: who wants to explain why they’re for terror babies or anchor babies?


A Rising Tide of Hate: Domestic Terrorists in the Gates.

I’m not gonna pray to God to bless Barack Obama. This is my prayer tonight to Barack Obama…I like to pray God’s word. This is the only prayer that applies to him, Break his teeth, oh God, in his mouth, you know as a snail that’s melted, let him pass away.

This is an excerpt from Tempe, AZ Pastor Steven Anderson’s, “Why I hate Barack Obama,” sermon.

A community leader, a man of God, has called for the death of the president, this disturbing message is one more example of the hate that is also spread by many talk radio hosts and found in the blogosphere. Consider the comments from the blog FreeRepublic.com regarding Sasha and Malia, President Obama’s school aged children: “A typical street whore. A bunch of ghetto thugs. Ghetto street trash. Wonder when she will get her first abortion.”

A brief search on Quantcast.com reveals that FreeRepublic.com receives 1.6 million visitors a month, 57 percent of whom are men and 80 percent white. The real eye-opener, as the Vancouver Sun reported on July 14th, was the equally shocking comments that followed. The site may have provided a de facto endorsement of the messages as it failed to remove them for nearly 24 hours and only after a researcher filed a complaint.

While the current national debate is being influenced by hate rather than reason, the Christian right wing movement has been polluted with racism. Further examination reveals a racist, anti-Semitic and fascist effort that has created a sinister undercurrent in American society that has been stirring for the better part of the century.

Many of our current day militias share forerunners who sought to emulate Hitler and his Nazi movement.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the current political climate is inspiring an increase in militia activity. The tone of the current debate, as it did in the Clinton era, can prove to be extremely dangerous for our citizens and the militias themselves. Consider the following events: Ruby Ridge (1992); the Branch Davidian standoff (1993); Oklahoma City Bombing (1995) and the Montana Freeman standoff (1996), all resulting in significant loss of human life.

These homegrown challenges defined terrorism for many Americans in a country that found itself largely insulated from foreign attacks. The tragedy of September 11th eight years ago changed all this. Through the actions of our law enforcement, military and enhanced national security, the United States, has protected its people from foreign and domestic threats.

In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published an assessment with the goal of further understanding rightwing extremism in the United States and to assist law enforcement officials on the federal and local level combat terrorism. The SPLC intelligence report and the DHS assessment attributes the recent increase of right wing recruitment and activity to the economic downturn, election of the first Black president, the rise of multiculturism and immigration. Many of these issues parallel the driving forces of the 1990s militia movement, and should serve as a warning to America’s leaders.

DHS reports that many of the recruits are being drawn from the same sources as those of the 90s for their military skill sets. A 2008 FBI report claims veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are joining extremist groups. The threat to our national security is real. The potential for domestic terrorism will grow as the flames of discontent are fanned the rhetoric of the radio waves, the spread of hate and recruitment tools on the Internet and the promotion of murder and intolerance from those in leadership positions.

Researching the various media sharing sites, one finds a stockpile of videos glamorizing the militia lifestyle and promoting an anti-government agenda. All of this activity is completely legal and protected under the Constitution. It might be legal, but it most certainly is part of a movement that inspires lone wolves like Timothy McVeigh, a United States Army veteran, responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing and consequently the death of 168 people. That was 14 years ago, but the past year has seen the murder of a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum, the murder of three police officers in Pittsburgh, PA driven by racism and anti-government ideology, the murder of a 10 year old Hispanic girl by a former member of the Minuteman Project and finally Christopher Broughton, a member of Pastor Anderson’s flock, carrying an AR-15 to President’s Obama’s VFW address at the Phoenix Convention Center, which turned out to be a publicity stunt.

The hate remains strong and has been woven into the national discourse. Each time a radio talk show hosts pollutes the airwaves with their “anti” rhetoric, each time a blogger makes racist comments about the first family and each time a pastor calls for the death of the president, the flames grow higher. If unchecked the flames of hate will consume our great nation, in loss of life and principle.

Randolph Gonzales is a graduate of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He hopes that his contributions provoke interest for republicans, democrats, libertarians, socialists, everyone; after all he comes from a mixed-partisan family.

For the People: Justice is Unserved.

There is a difference between justice and law. The two are imperfectly paired, as one is an idealized concept of equity while the other is a definition of permissible or impermissible behavior. Law is the mechanical structure that we create to achieve justice. But as human beings we are fraught with natural imperfection and our laws suffer for our faults, often falling somewhere short of justice’s ideal.

Luis Ramirez has been dead for almost a year. He died in a hospital, the victim of a severe beating that his body was not able to withstand. He left behind two young children and a fiance. On the first of May, the young men who administered that beating were acquitted of murder in a Pennsylvania court, found guilty of no more than simple assault. They had been drinking the night of the incident. Six teens. All white. High school heroes of the local football team. Luis Ramirez was accompanied only by the young sister of his fiance. Insults were exchanged. A fight broke out. The fight stopped for long enough that Ramirez made a phone call to a friend for help. The fight resumed. It was nearly over when the friend arrived, brought to a close when Ramirez was kicked in the head as he lay on the ground. The six white teens fled the scene and Luis Ramirez was unconscious, foaming at the mouth.

Police eventually arrived on the scene, but did not pursue the reported assailants. With Ramirez on his way to a hospital in an ambulance, the police in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania thought it was of greater importance to frisk the friends that had answered his last phone call, and to search their vehicle for weapons. On the other hand, the teenage boys that ran from the scene were able to go about their lives for almost two weeks before being arrested. As revealed in last month’s trial, the first day of those two weeks allowed the boys to meet and to concoct a story to bolster their defense.

The foreman of the jury that acquitted these young men has made public statements that his co-jurors were predisposed to a verdict of “not guilty” against the defendants, and that the reason they were predisposed was because the defendants were white and the victim was not. Perhaps I have not yet mentioned that all 12 jurors were white.

One of the fundamental principles of the legal system in our country is the assumption of innocence until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The same jury foreman that believes his co-jurors were racist and impartial also believes that the prosecution failed to overcome that doubt, and his 11 colleagues agreed. Sadly, the ghost of Luis Ramirez could not take the stand and point a ghoulish finger at each of his attackers. So instead, the bigot-riddled jury got to hear a lot of things that we have also heard from mainstream media outlets. Things that make an attempt to demean the character of the dead man, and somehow make him complicit in his own death.

Luis Ramirez was a 25-year-old illegal immigrant in the company of a 15-year-old “girlfriend” at the time he was attacked. This 15-year-old was not his fiance. He had two children out of wedlock with a white woman, who also had a third child that was not fathered by Ramirez. No one knows for sure if the white kids began insulting Ramirez, or if he made a provocative statement towards them first. The fight could have possibly ended before the immigrant received fatal blows, but as he walked away from his assailants, further insults caused him to charge back at them and resume the fight.

Try and tell me that you don’t see what this information is supposed to provide you. Subtly, or perhaps subliminally, these details are meant to paint Luis Ramirez as a freeloading border-crosser who came to our country to steal jobs and not pay taxes. He was a lecherous, miscegenational pedophile who seemed oblivious of birth control. He didn’t have the good sense to walk away from a fight when he could have, and suffered the consequences.

These are the details that we’ve heard about Luis Ramirez, and these are the details that the jury heard also. When you already have a prejudiced audience, highlighting the most stereotypical details of this man’s life are not going to help convince anyone to see things differently. It matters not that Ramirez had been working as a farm-hand in our country, picking lettuce and strawberries, for about six years. Only that he didn’t have the legal documentation that would allow him to do so. It didn’t matter that his work and his day-to-day life in Shenandoah contributed to the community. It only mattered that he was not on the radar of the IRS. And, yes, I have read multiple versions of Ramirez’s relationship to the girl he was with, and versions of her relationship to his fiance, and varying stories of whether the fiance was or was not his fiance, and multiple versions of the paternity of her children, but all of those things are only meant to conjure puritanical discomfort over someone’s sexual activities. It’s a smokescreen and a diversion meant to obscure the fact that a man was murdered.

The law of the United States is actually designed to protect the accused. The law worked in this case. These teenage boys were allowed to stand before a jury of their (all white) peers, and the burden was on the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they were guilty of purposely ending the life of Luis Ramirez because he was not a white American. The prosecution did not overcome that burden, and thus the jury was only convinced that the accused were guilty of assaulting someone.

And, they would likely tell you in hushed tones, that damned illegal Mexican had a beating coming to him anyway.

The Constitution enumerates several principles intended to preserve justice for all, while at the same time, laying the foundation of law. The 5th amendment provides due process. The 6th guarantees trial by jury and advice of legal counsel. The 14th amendment provides some details concerning citizenship, but also clearly states that no State shall deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection under the law.

This must include undocumented immigrants.

Luis Ramirez was not granted the 14th amendment rights that were his due. Justice has not been served. Forget the interpretation of the law minced and portioned by the defense attorneys. The intent of the law – to serve justice – demands that these young men must pay for their crime. Their use of racial epithets demonstrates a hostility toward Latinos. Their overwhelming numbers demonstrate an intent to do grave harm. Delivering a kick to a man’s head and running away, as far as I’m concerned, demonstrates a willingness to cause death, as it certainly demonstrates an indifference towards his continued life. And corroboration amongst the group a day after the murder demonstrates an intent to manipulate the investigation and the legal process to the detriment of justice. They must not go unpunished for any of these crimes.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is petitioning the U.S. Department of Justice to open a Federal investigation over the racially-motivated murder of Luis Ramirez. I am making a direct appeal to all who read this. Sign that petition. I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I feel that every person on this planet deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; not just those of us lucky enough to have been born in a land that promises it. I’m not Hispanic, not a friend or relative or Luis Ramirez, not an enemy of white kids or the State of Pennsylvania. I’m just a writer, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Sign that petition. Do it now.

For the People: The Symptom and the Sickness.

Off the northeast coast of Africa, pirates are disrupting the commerce of the seas and demanding ransoms from corporations for the safe return of men, cargo, and ships. On the southern border of the United States, there is a quiet war being waged amongst Mexican drug cartels and against the governments of two nations, while the body count for all is climbing faster upwards. President Barack Obama has made statements in recent days pledging to help bring both of these concerns to an end.

Upon initial assessment, it is easy to see the good in standing against these scourges. We’re talking, in both cases, about innocent lives being put in danger because of illegal activity. But let’s go against the grain of the mainstream media, and fight against the listen-without-thinking-or-analyzing-or-questioning tendency of our national ignorance to dig a little deeper. Come on – I’ll hold your hand if you need me to.

Guys in boats with machine guns who take hostages are bad. That’s pretty black and white. Let me remind you, though, that our world is not. We make cartoon villains out of every enemy we’ve ever had so that the government can sell us Cliff’s Notes on The Truth. The men who have become the faceless public enemy of the moment did not wake up one day and decide to become super-villains of the seas. The people of Somalia have endured over a decade of political and economic collapse that make present-day hardships in our country look like a vain inconvenience. Their economy didn’t recess, it practically vanished, and so did their government. As substitutes, they received first-class poverty and warring factions of self-interested opportunists.

Johann Jari, reporting for the San Francisco Bay Review in February, found that the “pirates” are not the bad guys in their own estimation. In fact, they feel just the opposite. They call themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia. What exactly are they guarding against? Foreign criminals that have taken advantage of Somalia’s volatile political situation. Corporations that rob Somalian waters of seafood that they once would have had to buy, and dump waste – nuclear waste – into the waters off the Somalian coast free of cost or consequence. Those guys in boats with machine guns who take hostages are doing it to stop the environmental abuses poisoning their people, and to collect money in lieu of the cash that would have been legally and fairly traded if the pirates had been able to remain fishermen.

Now, what if those young men in Somalia struggling with poverty and witnessing the poisoning of their families had another way to rise above their circumstances? What if they could farm, with little investment necessary at the beginning, and turn their crops into profit? Wouldn’t that be preferable to piracy? Well, that is the choice made by some Mexicans who have found that they can break the perpetual poverty their families have experienced for several generations. They grow drugs, or buy them from growers, at very low prices. They can then sell the cultivated and prepared drugs to American users at remarkable profit. It seems to me that they have sat outside our nation and looked through the window at capitalism, and learned it well. The men who make up the drug cartels did not go into that work because of a desire to peddle poison, or a lust for blood. They did it to make more money than they could have ever hoped to do otherwise.

I’m not naive enough to think that every pirate on the high seas nor every Escobar-in-the-making is a good-at-heart victim of circumstance that might be town mayor if the reality of their economy was just a little different. I do think that people by nature would rather build than destroy, and that most would rather contribute to their world than live as a parasite on its skin. As much as our governments, our police, and (let’s face it) our wealthy corporate puppet-masters want us to believe these people are monsters, they are essentially poor people just hoping to have a life comparable to the one they see us living. Point at their guns and call them evil. But if you tell me that you’ve never compromised your principles to get more than you otherwise would have, I will look upon you with a skeptical eye. How far would you have to be pushed, how far into poverty would you have to slip, how many of your kids or parents or siblings would you watch starve or suffer before you were willing to go to work with a gun in your hand?

The War on Drugs is a failure, yet we continue to escalate that war. For 40 years we have thrown money and effort at the effects of a problem without trying hard enough to find the cause of the problem. We don’t have a problem because drugs exist, or because they’re easy to get, or because drug dealers are greedy. We have a problem because people want them, and making their acquisition illegal creates a dangerous trade environment. People aren’t going to stop wanting drugs. Know why? Because we’ve already agreed that sense-altering, potentially dangerous substances are fun and sexy. They’re called liquor and tobacco. You’ve seen the ads.

Here is an illustration of where the War on Drugs has gotten us. A week after Obama’s visit to Mexico, I listened to a report on NPR about a girl who was strip-searched at the direction of her middle-school assistant principle in an attempt to discover unauthorized substances. The event happened in 2003. The girl was 13. Let me repeat for emphasis that a 13-year-old girl was strip-searched at her school for drugs. What was the supposedly just cause? Another student was found with drugs and claimed to have gotten them from this girl. Now do you think it was justified? How about when I tell you the drug in question was nothing but one 400mg ibuprofen? This case went before the Supreme Court just days ago, with the school continuing to claim that this search was acceptable. After all, the school has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs.

On the other side of the world, what do we have to show for our military actions against Somalian pirates? We have one guy, one corporate employee (whose life was probably never truly in danger from those pirates) being hailed as a hero for reasons that I don’t buy. We have one teenage boy being brought to a circus trial in the United States for actions that, while wrong and misguided, I believe to be defensible. We have three young men, probably also teenagers, dead at the hands of American snipers because they took drastic action when no other acceptable action was available to them. We still have hundreds of sailors being held hostage by pirates, not harmed, and being treated well by most accounts. And we still have Somalia, ungoverned and unprotected, producing more lawless men as long as there is no law to help them.

The connecting thread of these two concerns is that we tend to apply heavy-handed and poorly-reasoned measures to problems that require finesse and consideration. President Obama seems to be making the mistakes of all those who went before him by acting on the symptom and not the sickness. A lot of us expect more from him than that. The key to combating the pirates is not to start the War on Pirates – that’s the Bush way. The key is to help the people of Somalia establish a legitimate government that protects the interests of the populace, and to help stop foreign interests from looting Somalia’s resources. If you do that, there is no longer any appeal in becoming a pirate. The “pirates” are just men who want money, and if able to earn a reasonable amount in a fair and legal way, are likely to do so. The same goes for drug dealers. Legalize drugs and you remove the violence of the trade. You stop putting people in jail and turning them into ex-cons upon release. You also improve economies by legalizing an industry that has operated unregulated and untaxed. Then, educate, as we have shown to be effective in controlling alcohol and tobacco use. Create a commercial industry and men will put down guns to pick up a suit and tie.

There was another war that we started just a couple of years before Nixon created the War on Drugs. It was called the War on Poverty. You don’t hear much about it. It’s hard to turn it into a sexy summer movie. But maybe if we had spent more time and effort on that one, both wars would be history.