Hate Crimes And Hispanics: Who's The Victim?

NPR's Ari Shapiro spent time in Eastern Long Island reporting on a story about hate crimes against Hispanics. While he was there, he discovered that the line distinguishing a perpetrator from a victim can be hazy.

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This week, NPR ran two related stories about hate crimes against immigrants. In Suffolk County, on the eastern half of Long Island, the number of Hispanics has increased 40 percent since 2000. And many immigrants say they are subjected to abuse and violence.

NPR's justice correspondent Ari Shapiro traveled to Long Island for those stories and has this Reporter's Notebook.

ARI SHAPIRO: The big secret about legal reporting is that the stories are easy to tell. In a court, two parties stand on opposite sides of an issue. The reporter just has to explain each side, and there's the story. So when I went to Long Island with producer Marisa Penaloza to report on hate crimes, we expected to find two distinct groups of people: victims and perpetrators. Spanish-speaking immigrants had been attacked, spit on and abused by employers and landlords.

One year ago, an Ecuadorian man was stabbed to death allegedly by seven local high school students. Marisa and I visited a hiring site for day laborers. About a hundred men were drinking coffee and playing cards in a trailer. We asked them to tell us their stories.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

SHAPIRO: We met workers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. One by one, they sat down and described their experiences as victims. They all wore baseball caps, and their hands were gnarled from years of hard physical work. Then a man who'd been eager to talk sat down. He wore a floppy tiger print hat over his baseball cap. He had sharp cheek bones, and a puffy, blue, winter coat with fake fur lining the hood. With a shy smile, he introduced himself.

Mr. JOSE FUENTES: (Spanish spoken)

SHAPIRO: He said: My name is Jose Fuentes, but I go by Lorena(ph) because I'm effeminate; I'm gay. Fuentes took off his hat and parted his thick, black hair. He showed us where doctors had put seven staples in his head. He opened his mouth and pointed to where attackers had knocked out some of his teeth. We asked him, who did this to you?

Mr. FUENTES: (Spanish spoken)

SHAPIRO: My problem is that there is a lot of violence within the immigrant community, he said. Hispanics call me names, like queer. But he said, I'm not going to change. This is who I am. All of the immigrants we met struggle to get by day to day. One way they survive is by relying on each other. But Jose, or Lorena, said he is not safe even within his own community. For someone in his situation, there is no difference between the kinds of people who are victims of hate crimes and those who commit hate crimes. The men who are abused for being immigrants could easily be the same men who knocked out his teeth for being gay.

ARI Shapiro, NPR News.

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