Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Somos Latinas 100 stand in front of the public entrance to the Schuylkill County Courthouse on Monday in Pottsville.

Demonstrators with Somos Latinas 100 stand in front of the public entrance to the Schuylkill County Courthouse on Monday in Pottsville. Monday
Published: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 10:14 AM EDT
Demonstrations at the Schuylkill County Courthouse on Monday morning briefly interrupted court proceedings, incited several verbal clashes and honored a Shenandoah murder victim's fiancee.

More than 40 activists, who arrived about 9 a.m., supporting immigration and civil rights chanted and carried banners outside while a preliminary hearing for three Shenandoah teens charged in the July 14 death of an illegal Mexican immigrant was under way within.Watch the demonstration

Brandon J. Piekarsky, 16; Colin J. Walsh, 17, and Derrick M. Donchak, 18, were facing a preliminary hearing for the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25, of Shenandoah. Ramirez died July 14 from injuries he suffered in a beating July 12.

As the demonstrators chanted in Spanish, Magisterial District Judge Anthony J. Kilker recessed the hearing at 9:50 a.m. because of the noise. He asked the sheriff's department to control the situation.

"So we asked them to keep it down so the hearing could continue," Schuylkill County interim Sheriff Harold J. Rowan said.

Emma Lozano, executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras, Chicago, Ill., said, "Our goal was not to stop the preliminary hearing, but to show support to Crystal (Dillman, Ramirez's fiancee) and to make a statement against hate crimes. So we did quiet down so they could continue."

The hearing resumed after about five minutes.

"There were a couple in-your-face arguments, but there were no altercations," said Schuylkill County Sheriff's Deputy Maj. Dennis Kane, who patrolled the parking lot during the demonstrations.

"They're peaceful. We anticipated something like this happening and we had no problems," Rowan said.

Members of Somos Latinas 100 and Centro Sin Fronteras, both of Chicago, Ill., the New York-based May 1 Coalition and Pittsburgh Friends of Immigrants said Ramirez's death sparked their visits.

Just after noon, Dillman met with the demonstrators. Somos Latinas 100 presented her with a monetary donation, one of their flags and a round of applause. The group would not release the amount of the donation.

"Thank you," Dillman said, after being applauded by the group.

"She's a white woman who had the courage to say (Ramirez) was a human being," Lozano said.

The demonstrations angered a few other visitors to the courthouse, including Ron Hannivig, Simpson, Lackawanna County, and Debby Rabold, Effort, Monroe County, who said they were concerned about illegal immigration.

"We are in support of the Shenandoah boys," Rabold said.

"What I'm seeing here, I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. If there's a standoff here, it's going to get ugly," Hannivig said.

Ceci Wheeler, a member of Pittsburgh Friends of Immigrants, represented her group Monday at the courthouse. She said she's shocked some people aren't recognizing Ramirez's beating as a crime.

"That's inhumane. That's intolerable and we hope the judges serve justice," she said.

"We're not here to judge the youth," said Lozano. "We're here to say that the real criminals that caused this situation are not even on trial: those who created this situation that manipulated young people and other people into thinking they have to fear the Latino community, that it's an invasion and all of this other stuff. And people are starting to believe that."

While members of the May 1 Coalition carried banners, Somos Latinas 100 was fronted by a contingent of 15 women, ages 14 to 27. They dressed in black, wore identical fuchsia-colored berets and marched in time.

Representatives of Somos Latinas 100 would not identify themselves by name, since the organization is about unity and members want to avoid having one individual stand out from the rest.

"They're at war against the hate crimes and racial profiling," Lozano said.

Four male representatives of Somos Latinas 100 carried the flags of Mexico, El Salvador and Puerto Rico.

When asked why they didn't fly an American flag as well, a 21-year-old Somos Latinas representative said: "It wasn't a matter of not being patriotic. It was about uniting people of Latino decent for the Latina campaign."

The May 1 Coalition was formed after millions of people marched on May 1, 2006, in Los Angeles and New York City for basic rights for all immigrants, according to member Arturo Perez, New York.

The group speaks out against Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, calling the raids a violation of basic civil rights.

Members left New York at 3 a.m. Monday to drive to Pottsville.

Outside the courthouse, members carried signs reading, "Justicia para el Mexicano Luis Ramirez asesinado en Shenandoah" — "Justice for Mexican Immigrant Luis Ramirez killed in Shenandoah."

Heather Cottin, 65, of Long Island, is a white woman and a history teacher at a community college in Long Island. She's also a member of the May 1 Coalition.

"It's not as if this is the latest news — racism. Unfortunately it's in the history of this country," Cottin said. "If you can't potentially love all human beings, then what do you have here?"

She said the U.S. immigration and trade systems are broken and legalized government immigration raids are making it worse.

"It's really a government policy right now to stir up hatred against immigrants," she said.

Mike Gimbel, a delegate to the New York City Central Labor Council, called deportations "vicious bigoted attacks."

Gimbel, a Pennsylvania native living in the Poconos, said real change is needed in rural areas.

"The big efforts have to take place in a rural community like this..." Gimbel said. "The city is more sympathetic to the labor movement."

"We want to unify people of all nationalities, colors and genders. Without unity we can't fight for our rights," Gimbel said.

Wheeler said the Ramirez case prompted Pittsburgh Friends of Immigrants to attend and stand up for all immigrants who have experienced hardship.

"We are all advocates for immigrants' rights ... So anything that happens to members of our immigrant community, we're going to be there," Wheeler said.

Also standing outside were Mickey and Dottie Redmond, Ringtown. They said their 17-year-old son was a witness in the case, but they couldn't get into Courtroom 5 because it was overcrowded.

"I hope they send it to juvenile court, at least," Mickey Redmond said.

About 12:20 p.m., many demonstrators for the Latino community departed, marching clockwise from the courthouse entrance just off Sanderson Street, south on North 2nd Street to a charter bus, waiting on Laurel Boulevard.

Lozano said demonstrators from Somos Latinas 100 and Centro Sin Fronteras were heading to Philadelphia.

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