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Justice for Luis Ramírez

La Opinión

The town of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania was built on immigration. Since the discovery of rich coal mines in the 1830s, first Irish and German immigrants, and then eastern Europeans made this place their own to live the American dream and escape poverty in their countries. For decades, the population was so diverse that Shenandoah was known as "Little New York."

It was not until recently, when Latino immigrants began to arrive, mainly from other states in search of field work, factory jobs, and cheap housing, that Shenandoah began to show new signs of its diverse past. Past immigrants were integrated into a 97 percent white population, but their surnames reveal their foreign origins.

Even so, the racial tension has been palpable for many Latino residents, and was elevated to a national stage when a young Mexican, Luis Eduardo Ramírez Zavala, lost his life last July in an altercation with half a dozen members of the local football team.

Last Friday, after a brief trial, two of the young men, Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, were convicted by a local jury of simple assault and alcohol-related offenses, and acquitted on more serious charges of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation.

Since many witnesses heard the young men using racial epithets and given that Ramírez was killed by a kick to the head, this verdict seems woefully inadequate—a very low price for the life of an honest, hard-working young immigrant, who leaves behind two young children, a wife, and a grief-stricken mother in his native Mexico.

We are anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation undertaken by the Justice Department, through its Civil Rights Division. We believe that, as a minimum, this case deserves to be heard by the federal courts as a possible hate crime.

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