Friday, September 4, 2009

Demand Justice for Julio Maldonado.

This past Wednesday, police in Patchogue NY were once again called to investigate another hate crime. This time it was at a small church directly across the street from where Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero had been brutally stabbed to death by a roving gang of racist youths last November. A window of the Iglesia Evangelica Refugio de Salvacion had been broken and notes with messages like "Hispanics don't rule, whites do" were strewn across the alter.

Ironically, this happened on the same day that the Southern Poverty Law Center was in town to announce the release of a detailed report documenting the nativist hate and culture of violence that had been festering in Long Island's Suffolk County for years.

The culmination of months of investigation and interviews with Latino residents, both documented and undocumented, the report details how "Latino immigrants in Suffolk County are regularly harassed, taunted, and pelted with objects hurled from cars. …frequently run off the road while riding bicycles, and … beaten with baseball bats and other objects. Others have been shot with BB guns or pepper-sprayed. Most will not walk alone after dark; parents often refuse to let their children play outside. A few have been the targets of arson attacks and worse."

The report also found that "fueling the fire are many of the very people who are charged with protecting the residents of Suffolk County — local politicians and law enforcement officials….immigrants told the SPLC that the police were, at best, indifferent to their reports of harassment, and, at worst, contributors to it. Many said police did not take their reports of attacks seriously, often blaming the victim instead."

But the inability to receive protection from local authorities and justice from the courts is nothing new in immigrant communities across the country. The case of Luis Ramirez demonstrated with glaring clarity just how little justice there is for the victims of nativist hate.

For those lucky enough to survive vicious attacks, or more so, defend themselves against them, a Pandora's box of injustice, bigotry, and bureaucratic negligence is often opened wide to release the worst demons of the American (un)justice system.

Perhaps nowhere has this been demonstrated more clearly than in the case of Julio Maldonado and his cousin Denis Calderon.

Born in Peru in 1967, Julio and Denis were both long-time lawful permanent residents. Julio has lived in the U.S. since the age of three and has a longtime U.S. citizen fiancée. Denis has a U.S. citizen wife and U.S. citizen children. In 1996, Julio was visiting Denis at his home in Philadelphia when the two were victims of a racially-motivated attack by a group of white youths who insulted them with a racial slurs. When the cousins responded to the slur, the youths began throwing beer bottles at them. Within minutes, the streets were filled by a mob of angry white youths that neighbors later characterized as "like a riot." The two cousins tried to escape, and then attempted to defend themselves.

On Friday August 2, 1996, Julio Maldonado (resident of NYC) went to visit his family in Philadelphia for the weekend. On that Saturday evening, while Julio was visiting his cousin, Denis Calderon and family they decided to go to a pub around the corner from Denis’ home for a quick drink as a way to end their happy reunion.

… As they reached the corner, they noticed groups of people spread across both sides of Frontenac Street. They were drinking and being loud, so instead of walking on the sidewalk through these men’s paths, they continued their walk on the street, sort of diagonally towards Frontenac Bar. About half way through, a few of those young men jumped in front them and started yelling curse words and racial slurs (niggers, spics etc.). They demanded Denis and Julio leave their neighborhood NOW. Denis tried to explain he lived around the corner and that seemed to anger them more since one of them chanted “we should have never let you spics and niggers in our neighborhood”. It was evident they knew Denis and his family were the only Latino in their neighborhood and they just wanted him out. Julio tried telling them they didn’t want any problems and were just passing by, but the verbally racial attacks escalated to threats of violence against Denis and his family.

More youths quickly joined the attack and Julio noticed one of them pull out a knife or something shiny from underneath a nearby parked car.

… As Julio fended off his attackers he got closer to Denis’ home. That’s when he saw Denis helpless on the ground getting pounced and kicked by several of his attackers. At one point it even seemed that they were tugging his body apart and that’s when Julio saw one of the attackers was pulling Denis’ t-shirt over and covering his head (as if to remove it) with one hand while holding a knife with the other as he repeatedly stabbed Denis on the side, under his arm, by his chest. Julio saw the blood dripping from Denis’ body, his side, all over his legs and started screaming at the attackers to let him go, but no one stopped the attack and Julio feared the worst was yet to come. Somehow, in his desperation he was able to break from his own attack and leaped towards the car he had parked in front of Denis’ home. The windows were rolled down and he reached in to grab “the club” (a 2 piece auto steering wheel locking metal device).

… Julio then leaped back towards the men attacking Denis and again yelled at them and in particular to the man holding the knife, stabbing Denis to “Get the F*** off my cousin” several times but his pleads went ignored. No one tried to help and/or stop the attack. Julio then raised the club to take a swing towards the assailant as a way to startle him, maybe get him to release Denis or at the minimum get to knock the knife off his hands, but in midair of the swing, the device’s top half (which was loosely connected) split off; flew up in the air and landed on a nearby car. This made Julio loose his footing and as he tried to gain balance, the downward swing continued and barely brushed the attacker’s shoulder – sort of grazing him and ultimately causing him to release the knife. He then got up, took a few steps back and collapsed to the ground.

Families Against Injustice Towards Humanity

When police and paramedics finally arrived at the scene they quickly tended to 18 year old Christian Saladino, the assailant who had stabbed Denis, who had suffered what later was determined to be some sort of stroke or heart attack due to a pre-existing blood condition.

When the police arrived, they arrested Denis and Julio. They recovered two knives at the scene but did not test them for blood or fingerprints since no witness testified that Denis or Julio had used a knife. Denis and Julio were charged with aggravated assault. None of the white youths were ever charged with any crime.

Seth Williams, the current Democratic nominee for District Attorney of Philadelphia, was then the young prosecutor on the case. He fought hard on the case and Denis and Julio’s attorneys made some crucial errors, including failing to insist on a jury trial. Judge Gregory Smith found the two cousins guilty of aggravated assault and other ancillary charges in a bench trial. Each defendant served 2-3 years in prison for that conviction.

Hate Crime Victim Julio Maldonado wrongfully convicted now deported

Unfortunately, Saladino never recovered and remained in a coma until his death in 1998. The District Attorney then brought murder charges against Julio and Denis. After medical evidence showed that Saladino did not sustain any external physical injuries that could have led to his death and that he had a preexisting medical condition that most likely accounted for his reaction, the cousins were acquitted in a jury trial….but the original assault charges stuck due to a technicality about the way the attorneys had originally filled their paperwork. They appealed the original conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, but lost their case on that technicality.

Now, Julio is about to be released. But what should be a happy time for him and his family, has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare.

Due to the changes in immigration law that came with Clinton's "Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996", Julio is now considered a"criminal alien" subject to immediate deportation back to a country he hasn't seen since he was three years old. The cousins refused to cooperate with authorities, and would not voluntarily sign paperwork that would result in their own deportations. They have now served four additional years for their failing to cooperative with DHS requests.
Several years ago, DHS got involved and put the cousins into removal proceedings on the basis of the conviction which was then being appealed. Julio and Denis appealed their immigration case up to the Third Circuit and lost.
In 2005, Julio and Denis were charged and convicted with failing to cooperate in their own removal because they would not sign the papers necessary to request travel documents from Peru so they could be deported. They have been in federal prison on those charges since 2005. Julio's release date was moved up a year due to good behavior. DHS has expressed its intent to deport him once he is released on September 12, 2009.

In a little more than a week, Julio Maldonado will be released from prison after serving years for defending himself against a hate crime.

He's been a victim far too many times. First at the hands of racist bullies on that hot August night in 1996. Then again at the hands of the police and prosecutors who refused to punish the true criminals, instead choosing to persecute the victim for political gain. Then again when incompetent and ineffectual legal council prevented the cousins release. And now as an unbending immigration system plans to deal one final blow.

Julio recently filed for a pardon from Pennsylvania Governor Rendell. His immigration attorney is exploring the possibility of a stay of removal based on the pending pardon.

You can help by letting Governor Rendell know that Julio has suffered enough…. It's time to finally grant justice for Julio Moldanado.

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