Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Attack by black men against Latinos and Filipinos is called a hate crime

Karl Fischer:

Richmond police determined Friday that at least three people attacked by a crowd of young black men at Century 16 Hilltop theater this month were victims of hate crimes.

Two victims were attacked Aug. 11 outside the theater, and one was assaulted inside, stomped by at least 30 men while the film "Step Up" continued to roll, Police Chief Chris Magnus said.

The theater staff failed to help any of the victims. In one case, a witness reported employees in the theater lobby laughing as they watched a crowd of about 10 men beat and kick a woman huddled on the sidewalk in front of the building.

If identified, some of the attackers could face felony assault charges, Magnus said.

"We're really getting a horrific picture of what happened up there that night," Magnus said. "We are now saying that some of the factors present indicate there was a potential hate crime."

But police have been unable to identify suspects, or even the victim huddled on the sidewalk, in part because of a failure on the part of patrol officers to do their jobs properly on the night of the incident, Magnus said. Officers failed to take one victim's report until his mother phoned later to complain. They routed another victim's report as "vandalism."

In the "vandalism" case, Magnus confirmed, a crowd of young black men in front of the theater smashed the window of the victim's car and tried to drag her out by her ponytail, while someone shouted, "Get the white bitch!"

Representatives from San Rafael-based Century Theatres did not return several phone messages.

The incident began about an hour into the movie, police said, during a scene dealing with interracial dating. A crowd of young black men seated in the back rows began shouting and throwing candy toward the front of the theater, mainly occupied by Latinos and Filipinos.

Philip Herrera, 23, stood up and asked them to stop pelting his girlfriend and mother. In response, several men hauled him out of his seat and beat him severely enough to cause a concussion, according to the victim and witnesses. Dozens of others joined in kicking him as he crawled up the aisle.

Although Herrera said he did not believe his beating was racially motivated, his mother thought it was. So did City Councilman John Marquez, who also suggested that ethnic animus on the part of the officers, who are black, influenced their response.

Herrera and his mother, Judy Martinez, told the Times last week that officers refused to enter the theater to look for suspects, refused to take a written report, refused to escort Martinez into the theater to look for her shoes and refused to escort the group to their car.

"This has been going on for years," said Aleta Martinez, Herrera's aunt. "I was born and raised in Richmond, and I've lived with harassment and racial discrimination my entire life. It's gotten worse and worse there."

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