Bushwick residents, elected officials and community leaders, deeply worried about the dramatic increase of hate crimes in their neighborhood, held a vigil on Wednesday demanding the city develop a long-term response to the problem.
They gathered outside Beth Israel Hospital, where Mario Vera, a Mexican immigrant, remains a patient after he was viciously attacked on Sept. 23 by three thugs who beat him on a Brooklyn street while yelling racial insults. The city posted a $12,000 reward for their capture.
A good, hardworking, taxpaying family man, Vera, 38, is unable to speak or even to recognize his only child, a 16-year-old daughter. Doctors found blood clots in his brain as a result of a blow to the head. The construction worker was the sole supporter of his family, which has not been able to pay the rent since the brutal attack.
"Donations can be deposited at Citibank under the name of Mario Vera Rivera, checking account No. 9957183078," said Walter Sinche, of Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional, a vigil organizer.
"There has been no change in his condition, and the doctors say they don’t know if and when Vera is going to get better," said Irene Tung, of Make the Road New York, another of the organizers. According to Tung, doctors would like to transfer Vera to the Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital, on Roosevelt Island. The institution offers medical, rehabilitative and sub-acute long-term care to all New York City residents without regard to source of payment.
"They think it is his best hope," Tung said, "But it is very difficult to find an empty bed at Coler-Goldwater."
The unprovoked attack on Vera is cause for concern among many Bushwick residents. It is the second violent hate crime against Latino immigrants in their neighborhood in less than a year.
On Dec. 7, 2008, José Sucuzhanay, an Ecuadoran immigrant, was attacked by two men who pulled up in a SUV at a Bushwick stoplight and began beating him with an aluminum bat. He died five days later at Elmhurst Hospital, the day before his grieving mother arrived from Ecuador. He left behind two young daughters.
Sucuzhanay’s brother, Diego, offered his support to Vera’s wife, Ana María Gallardo.
"The rise in the number of hate crimes against immigrants, gays, and minorities in the city is really alarming," said Ana María Archila, of Make the Road New York. "We are asking the city to respond in a way that goes beyond punishment but instead helps promote respect and appreciation for different communities."
Vigil participants called for the creation of a city hotline and registry, stronger anti-harassment policies in the city schools, and comprehensive immigration reform.
Vera was returning home from a lower Manhattan food pantry on his bike when the men jumped him. The thugs did not know Vera or care that he was a family man and an honest worker. They only knew they hated him because he was Latino.
"People need to know they have the right to report hate crimes regardless of their legal status," Archila said.