Attacks against Latinos in the US didn’t stop after El Paso mass shooting

As Natalia Miranda lay on the ground, she didn’t know how she got there. Her body was severely swollen and her clothes were torn and dirty.

A SUV ran over the 14-year-old a few weeks before Christmas last year. She says she was walking the two blocks between her home in Clive, Iowa, and her junior high school to watch a basketball game.

Neither Natalia or her parents could make sense of what happened but soon, police told the family that it wasn’t an accident. The driver, a White woman, admitted that she intentionally hit the teen, police said.

“Her intention was clear … because she looks Mexican,” Natalia’s father, Cesar Miranda told CNN, referring to what the driver told police.

In the year following a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, multiple attacks targeting Latinos and immigrants have taken place across the United States.

The shooting in El Paso is considered one of the nation’s deadliest shootings and the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern US history. A gunman opened fire killing 23 people and injuring nearly two dozen others.

Before the massacre, the suspected gunman — now indicted on more than 90 federal and state charges, including hate crimes — published a racist screed railing against Latinos and immigrants, authorities said. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

It was a terrifying escalation to the ongoing racist rhetoric and violence against Latinos in the country. About a year before the shooting, half of Latinos said they had concerns about their situation in America and were worried that a family member or close friend could be deported, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. That sentiment didn’t vanish in the aftermath of the shooting.

The driver accused of hitting Natalia, Nicole Poole Franklin, 42, was arrested in December and remains jailed with no bond. She faces two charges of attempted murder and one count of assault-violation of individual rights, which is a hate crime. The charges stem from three separate incidents one involving Natalia, one involving a Black teen and one related to allegedly yelling racial slurs at a gas station attendant, according to jail and court records, and police reports.

The case remains pending in Polk County court. CNN has reached out to the public defender representing Poole Franklin but has not heard back.

Since the incident, Natalia and her family said they have constantly battled with anger, fear, and the teen’s mental and physical recovery.

Natalia has dreamed more than once that the same SUV returns and “runs over in her upper part of her body like it’s going to finish her up,” said Dalila Alonso Miranda, the teen’s mother.

While the state case remains pending, Natalia’s family is calling for federal hate crimes charges to be brought against Poole Franklin.

“If you don’t charge someone with a hate crime when they tell you that that’s why they did it, then when will you?” Alonso Miranda said.

More hate crimes reported, less federal prosecutions

Hate crimes targeting Latinos have increased every year since 2015, according to the 2018 FBI Hate Crime Statistics report, the latest data available.

In 2018, there were 485 incidents and 671 victims in anti-Hispanic or Latino incidents, compared with 427 incidents and 552 victims in the previous year, the agency’s data shows. Comparing 2018 to 2015, when there were 299 incidents and 392 victims, the number of incidents rose 62%.

Bias against Black or African American people overwhelmingly comprises the largest category of reported hate crime offenses pertaining to race, according to the FBI data.

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University, San Bernadino, says he attributes the increase to a national shift in focus from Muslims to Latinos. The FBI data in 2018 shows 270 incidents were reported against Muslims and Arab-Americans, the fewest since 2015.

In the past few months, more incidents involving Asians and Black people were reported than in the previous two years, Levin says, but it doesn’t mean the anti-Latino sentiment is gone.

“We have ticking time bombs across the country and we don’t know who they’re going to hit exactly but we know who they hate,” Levin said.

But even if hate crimes are actually reported, proving that a person committed a crime motivated by another person’s race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability can be very difficult, said Phyllis Gerstenfeld, a professor and chair of the criminal justice department at California State University, Stanislaus.

There have been few federal hate crimes prosecuted since 2012, according to an analysis by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, an organization at Syracuse University that tracks and collects data about the federal government.

Gerstenfeld, whose primary field of study is hate crimes, said there could be more incidents that remain unknown to authorities because victims don’t feel comfortable reporting them.

“Hate crimes in general don’t get reported to the police very often, but particularly with some communities of victims. Latinos, especially if they’re undocumented or they have poor relationships with police, are not going to report them,” Gerstenfeld told CNN.

‘We are in America, we don’t speak Spanish here’

A mother says she couldn’t stop two white women in East Boston from assaulting her and her 15-year-old daughter in February. The women “physically attacked them because they were laughing and speaking to each other in Spanish,” the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said.

The mother, Vasquez, said that when one of the women approached her, she asked her daughter to translate and the woman began yelling at them and assaulted them. CNN is identifying the mother by her last name for privacy and security concerns.

“She yelled, ‘We are in America, we don’t speak Spanish here, speak English!,'” Vasquez, 46, told CNN. The mother did not identify which one of the two women yelled at her.

During the altercation, Vasquez said she was bitten on her right thumb and hit multiple times while her daughter was punched in the face multiple times and pulled by the hair.

Two women — Jenny Leigh Ennamorati, 25, and Stephanie Armstrong, 25 — were each charged with two counts of violating constitutional rights with bodily injury and two counts of assault and battery charges, the district attorney said. Both cases have probable cause hearings scheduled for September.

They told police they heard the Vasquezes laughing and speaking Spanish and believed they were making fun of them, according to a police report, which redacted the women’s names but they were later released by prosecutors.

CNN has reached out to an attorney representing Ennamorati but has not heard back. William J. Barabino, an attorney representing Armstrong, said video recorded by a bystander and the “accuser statement” shows that his client “never laid a hand on anyone.”

“Eventually, she went over to the physical dispute and can be seen extending both arms in an effort for all to calm down. That isn’t a crime and we expect that a judge or a jury will eventually reach that same conclusion,” Barabino said in a statement emailed to CNN.

The incident has haunted Vasquez since then. For weeks, she says her daughter would wake up scared and crying at night and constantly asked why anyone would treat them like that. They have been mostly at home since the incident because of the pandemic and her daughter has been talking with a counselor but Vasquez is concerned about how she would interacts with more people when classes resume.

Fear may have kept many other victims silent, Vasquez says, but she can’t let hatred and bigotry go unpunished. Even after the Vietnamese restaurant where she worked closed due to the pandemic and she struggled to find another job for nearly four months, she hasn’t stop talking with others about the incident and working with her attorneys.

“There’s Asians, Latinos, everything in this country and still others haven’t understood that we deserve the same respect than people who were born in America,” Vasquez said.

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