By John M. Annese
April 12, 2010, 1:03AM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. --- Francisco Morales's broken shoulder still juts out after he was attacked and robbed on Port Richmond Avenue three months ago.
Victor Alfaro, 39, a gardener, still can't see properly out of one eye after he was beaten and robbed last year.
And Hector Ortega, 29, sometimes has to pass on the street the teens who attacked his cousin and pulled him off his bicycle last summer -- even though the assailants were arrested, they were young enough to be released from custody within days, he recalled.
Their stories are hardly unique.
Last night, more than 150 people gathered at a candlelight vigil to decry the latest attack on a Mexican immigrant in the Port Richmond Avenue -- the April 5 bias crime, assault and robbery of Rodulfo Olmedo, 26, who was beaten and kicked so severely that his skull was fractured.
|Vigil for bias attack victim|
"The community is living in fear, because these types of situations are not new to this area," said Gonzalo Mercado, the director of El Centro del Inmigrante in Port Richmond.
Olmedo had left a club in the neighborhood and at the doorstep of his Port Richmond Avenue apartment about 4:30 a.m. Monday when the four assailants converged on him.
They called Olmedo "a [expletive] Mexican" and "a stupid Mexican" before beating him with planks and robbing him of his wallet and cell phone, according to a police report.
See photos here.
Two surveillance cameras captured the attack, and on Friday, police arrested four suspects, Tyrone Goodman and Rolston Hopson of Elm Park and William Marcano of West Brighton, all 17, and a 15-year-old whose name has not been released, charging them with multiple hate crimes.
"He's under a lot of medication, so he's resting sleeping," said Olmedo's mother, Margarita Avalos, as Mercado translated from Spanish. "He just wants to make sure that everybody says something about it, that nobody should keep quiet. He does not want this to happen to anybody else."
Mercado and others made a similar plea at last night's vigil, and called for an increased police presence in the area around Port Richmond and Grove avenues.
"I think they look for us alone. When I was assaulted, there was no camera to tell the story," said Morales, speaking in Spanish.
Ronald Speight, the 20-year-old president of Eyeopeners Youth Against Violence, also called for the neighborhood to set up what he dubbed a "safe space" system -- businesses that are typically open late can serve as sanctuaries for people who are fleeing from robbers or fear they're being followed.
Speight, who lives in Port Richmond, said even though the alleged attackers are themselves minorities, cultural resentments can often spur on assaults and robberies.
"A big part of it is many people have lost the ideals, many people put money above all else," he said. "America was built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. We are the true melting pot of the world. Things like this should not continue to happen."
Rev. Terry Troia, the executive director of Project Hospitality, said she's been seeing anti-immigrant attacks in the area since at least 2003.
"It's ruffian kids," she said. "What 15-year-old is out at 4:45 in the morning with a two-by-four? Somebody explain that to me," she said.
And bias knows no borders.
In September 2006, three attackers -- Daniel Betancourt and Travis King, who were both 19 at the time, and John Messiha, then 17--stalked Ricardo Salinas, 33, a cook at the Graniteville IHOP because, as one of them told investigators after their arrest, they wanted to "rob a Mexican." Salinas died of a heart attack as the trio beat and robbed him in Mariners Harboer.
Last June, 38-year-old Luis Maltez was assaulted and robbed in his home community of Bulls Head, after he and his roommate were confronted by two men, Joseph Sweeney, 24 and Albijond Kaja, 28, at a convenience store.
Sweeney screamed at them: "[Expletive] Mexicans, this is my country!" and "I'm waiting outside, you [expletive] Mexican!" in the store, prosecutors allege. Minutes later, Maltez, who was walking home, was beaten with a bat and robbed of $200, and suffered a head wound that required 18 stitches.
Ortega said he's had two near-misses with robbers in addition to the attack from last summer, and in one instance had to duck a blow to the head with a chain before running off.
And occasionally, he sees a couple of his assailants hanging around on Port Richmond Avenue, he said.
"He tries not to confront them," said Mercado, translating for Ortega. "He'll walk into a store or something."
Hispanic immigrants, Rev. Troia said, are often targeted because "they're not perceived as having rights here, or belonging here. They're perceived as being in someone else's space. And they're easy prey.... There's no recognition that we're a nation of immigrants."