STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — With the exception of the July beating of a gay couple inside a Stapleton fast food chain, the recent spate of attacks on Hispanic men on Staten Island have been crimes of opportunity, not bias crimes, Borough President James Molinaro told the Advance yesterday.
Lets talk about reality… these are not bias incidents, Molinaro claimed. These are criminal acts. This is a law enforcement issue.
Molinaro praised the massive NYPD presence in Port Richmond, and said that hes been in contact with police brass on Staten Island, adding that if police ask his office for help, hed provide it.
If these were bias acts, I would reconvene the bias committee, he said, referring to the Anti-Bias Task Force, which was first convened in 1997.
The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force has responded to at least 10 attacks since April, most of them in the Port Richmond area, involving assailants robbing or beating Mexican immigrants.
The assaults have drawn international attention, including a rebuke from the Consulate General of Mexico in New York, and have spurred police to deploy a phalanx of patrol cars, a 24-hour command post and two Sky Watch towers to Port Richmond.
According to Molinaro, members of the Mexican community living in neighborhoods like New Dorp, Grant City, Annadale and Tottenville havent been subjected to similar attacks.
I dont want to alarm the public and say people [in Port Richmond] are prejudiced against each other, Molinaro said.
In a couple of the attacks, Molinaro said, the victims were set upon as they walked out of bars in the neighborhood, most likely by criminals who saw them as easy prey.
It could have been anybody, he said.
Molinaro also pointed to the arrest and conviction of Anthony Jones and Waheeda Sadick, in connection with the assault and robbery of two Mexican immigrants in April. The grand jury did not levy hate crime charges in either case.
These are people out to steal, he said.
Molinaro also took issue with a remark made by Ed Josey, president of the NAACPs Island branch, to the Wall Street Journal July 24.
If you go to different businesses and look at whos doing the help in these stores, you will see they are Latino employees….You dont see any influx of blacks being employed in the stores. People might tend to feel that jobs they may have wanted are going to other people, Josey said.
Molinaro responded, Thats a ridiculous statement. In fact, thats a bias statement.
Josey said he didnt want to get into a back-and-forth with the borough president.
If he takes offense to it, Im sorry he takes offense to it, Josey said, adding, What I said was based on what I see.
Meanwhile in Port Richmond, 300 people gathered to march last night against the continuing violent attacks taking place against Latinos in the community.
Immigrant residents from the Island and across the city descended on the corner of Forest and Jewett avenues to protest the bias attacks.
The peaceful protest march was organized by the Port Richmond-based Make The Road New York (MRNY). Alternating the program in both English and Spanish, MRNY Executive Director Ana Maria Archila told the crowd a federal judge had stepped into the fight over Arizonas immigration law at the last minute, blocking the heart of the measure, just hours before the law was to take effect. The announcement prompted cheers and drum beats from the crowd.
We are very encouraged by the position of the judge and encouraged by the people of community that are here today with hundreds coming to this corner to say, No more violence, she said.
Rousing the crowd, she added; We are Staten Island! We are Arizona! We are New York City! We are Americans and this is our home, all our homes.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his July 24 attack, was Mexican beating victim Alejandro Galindo. Galindo, joined by his three children, told the crowd in Spanish: Seeing everyone here makes me feel like I have value, like justice is on my side. Galindo said he hopes the violence stops so immigrants coming home from work dont have to feel scared or feel like criminals.
We will feel very happy; we will feel like human beings walking down the street, he said.
Gathering in the sweltering heat, the crowd carried buckets as makeshift drums coupled with tambourines and other instruments to create a distinctive Latino soundtrack to their call to end the violence.
The procession moved down Jewett onto to Post Avenue before finishing at the MRNY headquarters on Port Richmond Avenue. Marchers carried American and Mexican flags and colorful signs with peaceful messages as they chanted: Reform, Yes! Hate, No! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! and their favorite: Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!
In a statement, Rep. Michael McMahon said, Whether on Staten Island or anywhere else for that matter hate crimes should never be tolerated.
City Councilwoman Debi Rose said in a statement, Despite the recent spate of bias attacks, my faith is restored by the strong commitment and efforts of Staten Island communities working together to put an end to these heinous crimes.
Attending were Patrick Hyland from McMahons office; Daniel Hernandez from Ms. Roses office; Josey; Jacob Massaquoi, executive director of African Refuge; and MRNY representative Daniel Coates.
The march took place as the NYPD continued a strong community presence; members of the Guardian Angels were also present.
Residents said their joy in participating was tempered by fear of more attacks.
I am really worried because now all our families are really scared, said Gabriella Castenada of Port Richmond. I would like this to stop more than anything because I am thinking about my family who are scared because something could happen to them on the street.
Like several attending, Yngris Duran, 34, of Port Richmond, was happy to see the NYPD, but said more needs to be done, especially after midnight when the crimes happen. Now there is more security, but my question is how long are they gonna be here? That’s my worry"