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Context of 'May 2, 2009 and After: Teenagers Who Beat, Kicked Immigrant to Death Found Innocent of All but Minor Charges'

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One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom.One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom. [Source: Library of Congress]The landmark US Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, rules that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The unanimous decision overturns the doctrine of “separate but equal” education codified in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (see 1896). The case was argued by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organizations filed the suit as a challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, and combined five separate cases under the one Brown v. Board of Education rubric. The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case three different times in three years. In a unanimous decision, the Court finds that the “separate but equal” doctrine violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” Chief Justice Earl Warren wants to send a powerful signal to the nation in the ruling, and works to craft a unanimous decision with no dissents or even concurrences. He writes the Court’s opinion himself, but seeks the input of the other justices in two draft opinions that he tailors into his final opinion. One of the compromises he is forced to make is to put off the question of actually implementing desegregation until a later time, inadvertently allowing many states to keep segregationist practices in place for decades. Warren says the opinion should be “short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and, above all, non-accusatory.” Justice William O. Douglas is delighted by Warren’s opinion, and in a note to Warren, writes: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.” Justice Harold H. Burton writes a memo to Warren reading in part: “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court.… I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.… To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.” In an internal memo, Justice Felix Frankfurter writes of the practice of segregation: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those states where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow’s skin can fail to appreciate that.” Frankfurter says the ruling makes for “a day of glory.” Some right-wing and segregationist organizations condemn the ruling; Warren is forwarded a letter from an official of the Sons of the American Revolution claiming the ruling is attributable to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and that the NAACP is financed by “a Communist front.” President Eisenhower will take strong action to reduce segregation in America, but refuses to endorse the Court’s ruling. In 1967, one of the NAACP’s lead attorneys in the case, Thurgood Marshall, will go on to serve on the Supreme Court. [Library of Congress, 1994; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Felix Frankfurter, Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thurgood Marshall, Harold H. Burton, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, Sons of the American Revolution

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Luis Ramirez, dying of head injuries suffered during a beating by four Pennsylvania teenagers.Luis Ramirez, dying of head injuries suffered during a beating by four Pennsylvania teenagers. [Source: Latino Politics Blog (.com)]Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez is beaten to death in what appears to be a racially-motivated murder by a group of white teenagers in a Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, city park. Ramirez, a 25-year-old father of two children, has searched for work in Pennsylvania’s coal region since coming to America in 2002. Witness reports say that the group of “six or seven” teenagers, which includes a number of players on the Shenandoah Valley High School football team, shout racial slurs, including “stupid Mexican,” while they beat and stomp Ramirez; however, local law enforcement authorities later say race played no part in the murder. Witnesses say that the teenagers instigate the conflict by shouting at Ramirez; he briefly engages them in a fight and then walks away, but, responding to further shouts and imprecations, rushes the teenagers again. Arielle Garcia, a friend of Ramirez’s, says that she and her husband Victor Garcia attempt to break up the fight, “but kids were trying to fight my husband.” She says that the teenagers beat and kick Ramirez unconscious, and continue stomping and kicking him while the Garcias are attempting to protect him where he lies on the ground. She says that one teenager delivers a particularly forceful kick to the head, causing Ramirez to “start… shaking and foaming out of the mouth.” One of the youths who beats Ramirez later tells one of Ramirez’s Hispanic friends to tell area Hispanics to get out of Shenandoah, “or you’re going to be laying next to him.” Ramirez’s fiancee Crystal Dillman, a local resident, says Ramirez was often called derogatory names such as “dirty Mexican,” and advised to return to Mexico. “People in this town are very racist toward Hispanic people,” Dillman says. “They think right away if you’re Mexican, you’re illegal, and you’re no good.” Police chief Matthew Nestor acknowledges that the area has seen a spike in racially-motivated rhetoric and even violence in the last decade, since an influx of Hispanics swelled the area’s population. “Things are definitely not the way they used to be even 10 years ago,” Nestor says. “Things have changed here radically. Some people could adapt to the changes and some just have a difficult time doing it.… Yeah, there is tension at times. You can’t deny that.” Local reporters are denied access to the police incident log, even though it is a publically accessible document; borough manager Joseph Palubinsky says the reporters have “done enough damage already,” and refuses them access. A local newspaper writes after the murder, “[T]his tragic incident is not so much about who is responsible for America’s failed immigration policy as it is about the right of human beings to—live.” [AlterNet, 7/24/2008; Democracy Now!, 7/24/2008] Ramirez dies in a hospital two days later. Four teenagers are charged for causing his death; all four plead not guilty. Brandon Piekarsky (who delivers the fatal kick to Ramirez’s head) and Colin Walsh face homicide charges. Derrick Donchak and a juvenile, Brian Scully, face lesser charges. Dillman says: “I think they might get off, because Luis was an illegal Mexican and these are ‘all-American boys’ on the football team who get good grades, or whatever they’re saying about them. They’ll find some way to let them go.” Gladys Limon of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund calls the Ramirez murder “a case of enough is enough.… [T]his is happening all over the country, not just to illegal immigrants, but legal, and anyone who is perceived to be Latino.… I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos.” Mayor Thomas O’Neill says: “I’ve heard things like, ‘We don’t want to send our kids back to school because we’re afraid people don’t like Mexicans.’ That’s shocking to me. That is not the Shenandoah I know.” O’Neill acknowledges that since Ramirez’s death, he has learned of a number of racial incidents in Shenandoah that he says had never been brought to his attention. [New York Times, 8/5/2008; Associated Press, 5/4/2009] Garcia tells a radio reporter of the harassment she has suffered from white Shenandoah residents: “You know, like I was pregnant with my son, and they told me: ‘What’s that in your belly? Another person I’m going to have to pay for? Another Mexican on welfare?’ Like stuff like that. It’s disgusting.” [Democracy Now!, 7/24/2008] None of the four will be convicted of murdering Ramirez; instead, they will either plead guilty to, or be convicted of, far lesser charges (see May 2, 2009 and After).

Entity Tags: Derrick Donchak, Brian Scully, Brandon Piekarsky, Arielle Garcia, Crystal Dillman, Victor Garcia, Thomas O’Neill, Shenandoah Valley High School, Matthew Nestor, Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Joseph Palubinsky, Gladys Limon, Colin Walsh

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Neal Katyal.Neal Katyal. [Source: PBS]Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal is to be named the Justice Department’s deputy solicitor general. Katyal successfully argued for the defense in the landmark Hamdan v. Rumsfeld trial before the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006). Legal Times reporter Joe Palazzolo writes, “Katyal’s appointment is another strong signal of President-elect Barack Obama’s intentions to depart sharply from the terrorist detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration.” The Hamdan case, “which marked Katyal’s first appearance before the high court, was a stinging rebuke to [President Bush’s] broad assertion of wartime power.” Katyal’s boss, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, was named earlier in the month. Katyal was incoming Attorney General Eric Holder’s national security adviser in the Justice Department from 1998 to 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general for the Clinton administration. Katyal also served as one of the co-counsels for Vice President Gore in the Supreme Court election dispute of December 2000. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. [Legal Times, 1/17/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Elena Kagan, Neal Katyal, Joe Palazzolo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which released a classified report on the Bush administration’s policies on torture (see December 11, 2008), suggests to Eric Holder, the attorney general-nominee, that President Obama appoint someone with “real credibility” to mount an independent investigation into the use of torture by US officials. He tells a reporter: “We’re going to try to complete this investigation, at least on the [Defense Department] side… [b]ut on the intelligence, the CIA side, that’s going to be up to the Intelligence Committee. I know I suggested to Eric Holder… that he select some people or hire an outside person whose got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Bush administration (43), Eric Holder, Carl Levin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

From left to right: Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, and Derrick Donchak.From left to right: Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, and Derrick Donchak. [Source: Moral Low Ground (.com)]Two Pennsylvania teenagers who beat an illegal immigrant to death (see July 12, 2008 and After) are found not guilty of the major crimes they were alleged to have committed. The all-white jury in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, finds Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak guilty of simple assault against Luis Ramirez. Piekarsky is found innocent of third-degree murder; both are found innocent of ethnic intimidation. Friends and relatives of the two teenagers have to be restrained by court officers when they attempt to rush the defense table to congratulate the two defendants. Gladys Limon, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, calls the jury’s verdicts “a complete failure of justice.” She adds, “It’s just outrageous and very difficult to understand how any juror could have had reasonable doubt.” Piekarsky and Donchak may face federal charges over the murder of Ramirez. Prosecutors said they were two of a group of four drunken teenagers who targeted Ramirez because of his race, and beat him to death while screaming racial epithets. Piekarsky delivered the fatal blow, a kick to the head. Ramirez died of the injury two days later. Defense lawyers called Ramirez the aggressor, and called the incident a street brawl that ended badly. Jury foreman Eric Macklin says the evidence led them to acquit Piekarsky and Donchak of all but the most minor charges. “I feel bad for Luis’s friends and family,” Macklin says. “I know they feel they haven’t gotten justice.” Neither Piekarsky nor Donchak will serve more than two years in prison. Another assailant, Colin Walsh, who actually knocked Ramirez unconscious before Piekarsky began stomping him, pled guilty to a charge of violating Ramirez’s civil rights, earning four years in prison; Walsh testified for the prosecution. A fourth assailant, Brian Scully, is charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation (see May 18, 2009). [CNN, 5/2/2009; Associated Press, 5/4/2009; Philadelphia Weekly, 5/19/2009]
Hispanic Residents Say Verdict Encourages More Racial Intimidation - Shenandoah residents say after the verdict that other white teenagers apparently feel empowered by the verdict, and have issued threats against other Hispanic residents. One, high school student Felix Bermejo, is told by a group of white males that he will be the next one to be beaten to death. Residents who have spoken out against the murder are harassed and threatened. One white resident, who asks that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, tells a reporter: “It’s only gotten worse since the verdict. The whole thing has set us backwards, and if the trial had swung the other way, it would have just been the whites who were angry.” Some white residents say that the only racial tensions in Shenandoah are those sparked by the national media coverage, but some Hispanic residents say differently. Fermin Bermejo, the father of the threatened Felix Bermejo, tells a reporter, “This town is a place where people can be very kind, but there are also a lot of folks who don’t like change and they don’t like people who are different, and they make sure you know it.” The Bermejos are American citizens. Fermin Bermejo says he has tried repeatedly to get school authorities to intervene in what he calls the bullying of his son; instead, his son has been suspended for standing up to the white youths. “All we were asking the principal to do is talk to the bullies and tell them that if the accusations were true, they would be in serious trouble,” Bermejo says. Other Hispanic residents tell of being targeted by ethnic slurs and criticized for speaking Spanish in public. One Hispanic shopkeeper says his store’s front window was shattered by vandals after the verdict. [New York Times, 5/16/2009]
Federal Investigation Mounted - After the verdict, Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) calls the verdict racially motivated, and calls for a Justice Department investigation. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Rendell writes: “The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramirez was targeted, beaten, and killed because he was Mexican. Such lawlessness and violence hurts not only the victim of the attack, but also our towns and communities that are torn apart by such bigotry and intolerance.” After an FBI investigation, federal charges will be filed against Piekarsky, Donchak, and three local police officers (see December 15, 2009). [CNN, 12/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Brian Scully, Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, Edward Gene (“Ed”) Rendell, Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Fermin Bermejo, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Derrick Donchak, Gladys Limon, Eric Macklin, Felix Bermejo

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Brian Scully, a Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, teenager charged with taking part in the fatal beating of illegal immigrant Luis Ramirez (see July 12, 2008 and After), admits to taking part in the fight that resulted in him and a number of his friends kicking and stomping the unconscious Ramirez to death. Scully, charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation, is classified as a “delinquent” and ordered to spend 90 days in a treatment center. The three teenagers charged as adults in the murder were recently acquitted of all but the lightest charges in the murder (see May 2, 2009 and After). Scully says he is sorry for his actions. [Associated Press, 5/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Brian Scully

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

From left to right: Matthew Nestor, William Moyer, and Jason Hayes.From left to right: Matthew Nestor, William Moyer, and Jason Hayes. [Source: Pottsville Republican-Herald]Five people, including three police officers, face federal charges in the murder of illegal immigrant Luis Ramirez (see July 12, 2008 and After). The four teenagers who beat Ramirez to death were acquitted of all but minor charges by an all-white jury (see May 2, 2009 and After). Two indictments charge the five with federal hate crimes, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy, in what authorities say was a racially motivated attack. The indictments are against two of the defendants in the murder trial, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, and three police officers: Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew Nestor, Lieutenant William Moyer, and Officer Jason Hayes. Donchak and Piekarsky face a maximum penalty of life in prison plus additional time. Donchak is accused of conspiring with Nestor, Moyer, and Hayes to orchestrate a cover-up of the crime. The three officers face obstruction of justice charges, and Moyer faces charges of witness and evidence tampering, and of lying to the FBI. According to the indictments, Nestor, Moyer, and Hayes intentionally failed to “memorialize or record” statements made by Piekarsky about the incident, and “wrote false and misleading official reports” that “intentionally omitted information about the true nature of the assault and the investigation.” The officers face up to 20 years in prison on each of the obstruction counts. Moyer faces additional jail time if convicted of lying to the FBI. At the time of the murder, Hayes was dating Piekarsky’s mother, and Moyer’s son was a high school student who played football with the defendants. One of the charges involves false reports that an eyewitness, Arielle Garcia, reported that it was Brian Scully (see May 18, 2009), and not Piekarsky, who delivered the fatal kick to Ramirez’s head. Subsequent investigation determined that Piekarsky delivered the killing blow. [CNN, 12/15/2009; Philadelphia Weekly, 12/15/2009; Hazleton Standard Speaker, 1/28/2011] Piekarsky and Donchak will be convicted of violating Ramirez’s civil rights. Nestor and Moyer will be convicted of lesser charges, and Hayes will be acquitted entirely (see January 27, 2011).

Entity Tags: Jason Hayes, Brandon Piekarsky, Arielle Garcia, Brian Scully, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Matthew Nestor, William Moyer, Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Derrick Donchak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Two Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, teenagers, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, are convicted of violating Luis Ramirez’s civil rights when they beat and kicked him to death in what prosecutors call a racially motivated crime (see July 12, 2008 and After). The two were acquitted of all but the lightest charges in a local trial (see May 2, 2009 and After), but a subsequent investigation by the FBI led to charges against the two teenagers and three local law enforcement officers whom the FBI says covered up the specifics of the murder (see December 15, 2009). Both teenagers face life sentences. Schuykill County District Attorney James P. Goodman took the case away from Shenandoah police officers and had his own detectives bring it to court; observers credit Goodman’s detectives with making a far stronger case against Piekarsky and Donchak than the Shenandoah police officers presented in the first trial. [Hazleton Standard Speaker, 1/28/2011] After the first trial, Goodman said he thought the Shenandoah police officers had “compromised” the case from the outset. He told a CNN reporter: “They didn’t interview the perpetrators, the boys. In fact, not only did they not interview them, they picked them up, gave them rides, helped them concoct stories, brought them back, and told the boys what to say.… It’s clear they were trying to help these boys out, for whatever reason—they were football players, these police officers were trying to help these boys out and limit their involvement in the death of Luis Ramirez.” [CNN, 12/17/2009] Investigators have indicated that Donchak identifies with white supremacist ideology, wearing “Border Patrol” T-shirts and listening to overtly racist music. During the trial, prosecutors played one song from Donchak’s collection, titled “The White Man Marches On,” whose lyrics glorify violence against minorities. Prosecution witness Colin Walsh told the jury: “He’d sing along with it. He really didn’t like Hispanics.” Walsh testified that he saw Piekarsky deliver the kick that resulted in Ramirez’s death. Walsh said that after the beating, Piekarsky boasted to him that “he kicked the guy so hard his shoes flew off.” Eyewitness Victor Garcia testified that instead of going after Piekarsky, Donchak, and the other teenagers, who fled the scene after beating and kicking Ramirez, the police harassed him and other Hispanic witnesses. The mother of another teenager who attacked Ramirez, Brian Scully (see May 18, 2009), testified that Moyer called her in the days after the beating and told her if her son had gray-blue sneakers, to “get rid of them.” Testimony also showed that Moyer worked with Piekarsky, Walsh, and others involved in the beating to revamp the story of the beating to eliminate all references to racist comments, and to paint Ramirez as the instigator of the fight. [Scranton Times Tribune, 10/9/2009]

Entity Tags: James P. Goodman, Brian Scully, Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Victor Garcia, Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Derrick Donchak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Former Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, police chief Matthew Nestor is convicted of filing false police reports, and his former colleague William Moyer is convicted of lying to the FBI, in a case centered on the 2008 beating death of immigrant Luis Ramirez (see July 12, 2008 and After). FBI investigators determined that the beating death of Ramirez was a hate crime. Nestor, Moyer, and former police officer Jason Hayes were charged with an array of federal crimes regarding their role in covering up the specifics of the Ramirez murder by a group of local white teenagers (see December 15, 2009). Nestor is found not guilty of conspiracy, and Moyer is found not guilty of filing a false report, tampering with evidence, and tampering with a witness. Hayes is acquitted of obstruction of justice. Nestor faces up to 20 years in prison for his conviction, while Moyer faces up to 25 years. Nestor’s lawyers say they will appeal their client’s conviction, but Moyer’s lawyers say they may not. Hayes says he wants to become a police officer again. Nestor and another Shenandoah police officer, former Captain Jamie Gennarini, face unrelated charges of taking part in an extortion racket. Both Nestor and Gennarini face civil charges in the death of Hispanic resident David Vega, who died in the Shenandoah county jail; the civil charges say Nestor and Gennarini killed Vega and altered the circumstances to make his death look like a suicide. [Hazleton Standard Speaker, 1/28/2011] Lisa Navarrete of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group, says, “I’m disappointed that they weren’t convicted of all the charges.” The verdict “does show that these police officers did interfere in the case.” [New York Times, 1/27/2011] The two teenagers accused of beating Ramirez to death were recently convicted on federal charges (see October 14, 2010).

Entity Tags: Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Vega, Jamie Gennarini, Lisa Navarrete, William Moyer, Jason Hayes, Matthew Nestor

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

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