LatinaLista -- The Department of Justice released a statement this afternoon regarding the sentencing of the two young Shenandoah, PA men convicted of a hate crime in the beating death of undocumented immigrant, Luis Ramirez.
WASHINGTON - Brandon Piekarsky, 19, and Derrick Donchak, 21, both of Shenandoah, Pa., were sentenced today to nine years in prison for the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez, the Justice Department announced.
(Right top to bottom) Derrick M. Donchak, Brandon J. Piekarsky and Colin Walsh were charged as adults with homicide and ethnic intimidation in first trial that ended with no justice for the Ramirez family. Photo of Ramirez in his hospital bed was taken only hours before his death.
Piekarsky and Donchak were ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay $550 to the Pennsylvania victim compensation fund, as well as the special assessments for each count. Donchak was also sentenced to an additional 30 months for obstruction, which will be served concurrently.
On Oct. 14 2010, a federal jury in the Middle District of Pennsylvania found both defendants guilty of a felony violation of the federal Fair Housing Act for fatally beating Luis Ramirez because he was Latino and because they did not want Latinos living in Shenandoah. In addition, the jury found that Donchak conspired to, and did in fact, obstruct justice during the investigation of this crime.
According to the evidence presented at trial, on July 12, 2008, the defendants came upon Ramirez in a park after leaving a community festival. The defendants and several of their friends, some of whom testified during the trial, attacked Ramirez.
During the course of the beating, the defendants and their friends yelled racial epithets in which they repeatedly referred to Ramirez in derogatory racial terms and told him "This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico."
According to testimony, Donchak beat Ramirez while holding a thick piece of metal identified at trial as a "fist pack." After another of their friends punched Ramirez in the face, causing him to fall back and hit his head on the ground, Piekarsky kicked Ramirez in the head as he lay unconscious and prone on the ground.
After Piekarsky kicked Ramirez, he told a bystander who was married to a Latino man to "tell your Mexican friends to get out of Shenandoah or you will be lying next to him." After the fight concluded, Ramirez was air-lifted to Geisinger Regional Medical Center, where he died of massive head injuries.
The jury also heard evidence that, immediately following the beating, Donchak conspired to obstruct the investigation of the fatal assault.
Reporter Gustavo Martinez who has been covering the case from the beginning was in the courtroom today as the men were sentenced and tweeted: "Piekarsky spoke and said he wasn't a racist and promised not to be a danger to society."
The prospect that this young man has learned his lesson is unfortunately low. Otherwise, he wouldn't have helped to commit the act in the first place. Undoubtedly, he is more sorry that he got caught and has to spend time in jail -- and that's where he may really turn into a racist, of the worst kind.
Since both boys already lean towards disliking people of color, once they're in jail chances are they will come into contact with hardened criminals that feel the same way they do. The scary part is that it's known that more than a few white supremacy groups got their start in prisons and its reported that 10 percent of all prisoners in U.S. prisons belong to a gang.
Yet, even if these two men don't run into a white supremacy gang in jail, PA has about 36 known hate groups as identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). From the Ku Klux Klan to White Nationalists, there are enough racist hate groups to provide these young men with a choice.
Though Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, stated in the released statement that, "Acts of violence, like the beating of Luis Ramirez, have no place in this country," the disturbing trend in the United States that some lives are worth more than others is on the rise.
In the Spring 2011 issue of the SPLC's quarterly investigative journal Intelligence Report, there is an article that found U.S. hate groups now stand at 1,000 across the country.
The SPLC documented 1,002 hate groups operating in 2010 - a 7.5 percent increase from the 932 groups active a year earlier and a 66 percent rise since 2000. It is the first time the number of hate groups has topped 1,000 since the SPLC began counting them in the 1980s.
Some of these hate groups are blatant in who they are targeting -- immigrants, gays, blacks, Latinos. Others are more subtle and hide behind the premise of being patriotic. Yet, the end result of what they want to accomplish remains the same as their racist peers.
While the sentencing of the two men today was a good sign that this kind of hatred and murderous discrimination won't be tolerated in a civilized society, it's clear from the data that more must be done within local communities to combat the irrational rage that exists against people who look or sound different -- before it seduces more people who are vulnerable to messages of hate.