Stu Bykofsky’s Irresponsible Rhetoric has Real Consequences
When I read Stu Bykofsky’s column “Am I Anti-Latino?” I couldn’t help but think about Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala. I would bet that Mr. Bykofsky and many don’t remember that name, but for most in Philadelphia’s Latino and immigrant community, it is one we will never forget.
In 2008, the world was shaken by the death of this 25-year-old man in a little town outside of Philadelphia: Shenandoah. Luis Eduardo was attacked by several young men who repeatedly punched and kicked him in the head while screaming racial slurs, such as “Go back to Mexico” and “Tell your f—ing Mexican friends to get the f— out of Shenandoah.” Two days later he died, leaving behind a wife and two children.
Local police first denied that the attacks were racially motivated and many anti-immigrant groups came to the defense of the assailants, stating that they were not anti-Latino but that their actions were justified because of Luis Eduardo’s immigration status. Eventually the Department of Justice was called to investigate and, in the end, the assailants as well as three police officers were convicted of federal hate crimes as well as obstruction of justice.
In the past six months Mr. Bykofsky has referenced the organization where I serve as executive director, Juntos, and our work several times. In his descriptions, he has used words like “illegalistas,” “illegal-immigrant sympathizers,” “foreign-criminal enablers” and “gangbangers and others who threaten the community” to describe us and the work we do. Now that he is asking if he is anti-Latino, especially because our organization is so regularly a target of his intolerance, we felt the necessity to respond. The answer is, unequivocally, yes. We see the words in his columns and those used by Luis Eduardo’s killers to be more similar than different and certainly just as dangerous.
Recent reports have shown that hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise. In 2011, the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice found that there were higher rates of anti-Latino hate crimes in places with higher rates of Latino migration, and that there is a direct correlation between these incidents and the tone of the immigration debate. In 2012, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of hate crimes hasn’t changed – the targets have – and recent census numbers have shown an increase in Philadelphia’s population, attributing it to the growth in immigration; not just here but in many places across the state, like Norristown, Allentown and Reading.
Furor stoked over immigration reform and irresponsible rhetoric has real consequences. Perhaps to Mr. Bykofsky this is a question of different politics but for those of us he writes about, it can be the difference between life and death.
As the world mourns the assassination of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by the local police, we can begin to see the connections. What happened in Ferguson and what happened in Shenandoah occurred because of very deep, historical and structural racism that, in 2014, still infects our society with hatred and fear. It is persisting hatred and fear that has led to the sharp rise in hate crimes against Latino immigrants and that results in a black person being murdered by police, security guards or vigilantes every 28 hours in the US. Make no mistake: What ends in violent acts begins as unchecked intolerance.
The same day that the Daily News printed Mr. Bykofsky’s column in which he names and attacks Juntos, we were interrupted and shaken by threatening phone calls we received from people who felt emboldened by Mr. Bykofsky’s position and chose to let us know that we as a staff in Juntos and our community as a whole are both disposable and to be disposed of.
The question isn’t “Is Bykofsky Anti-Latino?” That answer is self-evident in the fact that he felt the need to ask. The question is why any newspaper would allow itself to be a vehicle for his rhetoric that is normalizing and fomenting an anti-Latino environment in Philadelphia. The city has no room for such divisions between our communities and neither should the Daily News. Instead of giving credence to his irresponsible opinionating, the paper should make it clear that “Am I anti-Latino?” is why he will be asking “Why am I out of a job?” and terminate his tenure immediately.
Failing to do so would be an endorsement of his recklessness and leave readers wondering not just if one columnist is racist but whether the entire paper itself is anti-Latino.