"Jose Sucuzhanay and his brother, Romel, had left a party on December 7 at St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church when several men approached them in a car in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, police said. The men allegedly began shouting anti-gay and anti-Latino vulgarities at the two men."
A month earlier, another Latin man, Marcelo Lucero was attacked by a group of seven high school students in Suffolk County and stabbed to death. The Suffolk District Attorney said that "the seven students charged in the attack admitted they regularly beat Hispanics for fun. He said one of the accused attackers, Anthony Hartford, 17, of Medford, told police 'I don't go out doing this very often, maybe once a week.'"
If such attacks against Hispanics are taking place in the New York area, among the most open-minded and diverse regions in the world, I can only begin to imagine what might be going on elsewhere in the US. The picture that emerges is not very pretty:
"FBI statistics show an alarming increase in the number of hate crimes across the nation. Latinos, the numbers say, have become the racists' target of choice in the last four years. Since 2003, hate crimes against Hispanics have increased by a shocking 40%. According to the FBI, almost 67% of crimes motivated by ethnic or national origin are committed against Latinos."
For several years now I have closely followed the immigration debates in the US. I have seen, with considerable dismay, the negative, mean-spirited tone that powerful figures in politics and the media sometimes display when discussing immigration issues. In particular, I have become increasingly alarmed at their mean-spirited, anti-immigrant words, especially aimed at poor Mexican immigrants. Do these words matter?
Part of the reason for my feelings has to do with my personal background. I am not only a first generation immigrant myself, but I came to the US with my family as a refugee from Cuba after the Castro regime took away my parents’ store. My father and mother had come to Cuba from Eastern Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively. I never knew my grandparents. They stayed behind, as did others in the family. They all perished in The Holocaust.
My Jewish heritage has undoubtedly sensitized me to the demonization of minorities by powerful media figures and politicians, who blame them - sometimes directly, sometimes in a more subtle way - for whatever problems are afflicting society. This is particularly dangerous when economic conditions are tough, as is the case today.
At such times, demagogues will often arise, point to one group and make them responsible for whatever anxieties people are feeling. There is a long, sad history of picking on some group – e.g., ethnic, religious, racial - and making them the scapegoats for whatever people are worried and angry about. As we well know, the results are often disastrous. That is why civilized societies are particularly sensitive to hate crimes.
While nothing like that is happening here, I must admit that the verbal attacks on illegal Mexican immigrants cause echoes in my brain of hate speeches I have heard against blacks, Jews and others, some from historical documentaries, some, unfortunately, from more recent history. In that context, the recent killings in the New York area and the general increase in hate crimes are particularly troubling.
How should we think about those media figures who traffic mostly in anger, and adopt a red meat style, based on blaming some particular group for just about everything that is wrong with the country? Do their words matter? What about the media organizations that provide them with the platforms from which to deliver their hateful messages?
Could there be a connection between the rise in hate crimes against Latinos and the constant anti-immigrant rants coming from people like Lou Dobbs? Does it matter that this angry, hateful language is being heard from highly respected news organizations like CNN and its parent company TimeWarner? I honestly don't know the answer to these questions. But something does not feel right from a moral point of view.
The reason I use Lou Dobbs Tonight as an example is not because of Lou Dobbs himself, whom I don't think of as a nice person worth having a discussion with about moral behavior or anything else. But I do like and have a lot of respect for CNN. Most of their people are very good, and seem very decent. I wonder if they share my concerns.
In April of 2007, Don Imus made an insulting remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team in his very successful national syndicated talk show, Imus in the Morning. He initially called the remarks "some idiot comment meant to be amusing," but after many others expressed outrage, Imus apologized several times over the next few days. A week later, MSNBC, which simulcast Imus' show, made the decision to stop carrying the program, citing the strong feelings of many MSNBC employees for their decision. The next day, Imus in the Morning was cancelled altogether.
I really believe that what Lou Dobbs dishes out every day in his program is far worse that anything Don Imus said on that fateful day or over the years, which caused MSNBC employees to recommend no longer carrying the program. I wonder what Dobbs' CNN and TimeWarner colleagues think of him and his show. Do they think his words matter?
When reading about hate crimes against Latinos, do the Latino employees of CNN think, for even a second, that perhaps their own station might be contributing to the kind of climate that history has shown is often associated with such crimes? CNN and Time Warner have many Jewish and black employees. Am I the only Jew who shudders when hearing the way Lou Dobbs talks about Mexican immigrants, given our not so distant history?
Like millions before me who came to the US in search of better opportunities, I have done quite well. One of my proudest accomplishments is being named Hispanic Engineer of the Year in 2001. It somehow wraps together and validates my multi-cultural identity, - who I am and where I came from, along with whatever I then became.
I think it is important that we all take a minute now and then and think about our feelings when we first got here many years ago. We should put ourselves in the shoes of those who are struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families. Our behavior, let alone our words, should be guided by the memories of what we went through. The Golden Rule should be our compass - "Treat others as you want to be treated."