Mexican Immigrant from Staten Island Speaks Out About Dismissed Hate Crime Charges

Christian Vasquez - Photo: Humberto Arellano/EDLP

Christian Vasquez. (Photo: Humberto Arellano/EDLP)

STATEN ISLAND,  New York —The district attorney here threw out charges against a teen accused of beating a Mexican immigrant while shouting racist slurs because authorities learned the fight followed a drug deal.

In an exclusive interview with El Diario, Christian Vázquez, who’s 18, reacted to the news that the only man he could identify as one of his attackers, Darrien Williams, 17, would not face hate crime charges.

“I’m angry and I’m disappointed,” he said. “[The police] told me they were going to help me no matter what, but when I told them what happened, they threw out my case.” But the Staten Island District Attorney, Daniel Donovan, says Vázquez didn’t initially reveal to police he’d just purchased marijuana from the men who attacked him; and that omission compromised his case.

Vazquez was attacked by three men early on the morning of July 31st. “I admit, I bought a nickel bag from one of them. Yes, I bought marijuana from them but they ripped me off, they took my money, they beat me up and they called me, ‘Wetback,’ and ‘Stupid Mexican’,” said Vazquez, who said he felt he had been tricked by the men.

The District Attorney, Daniel Donovan, explained the decision to dismiss the charges. “On the basis of that additional information we have concluded that this incident stemmed not from a bias due to Mr. Vazquez’s race or nationality but rather a dispute with an unapprehended individual from whom he had just purchased a quantity of marijuana.”

He added, “In light of applicable law governing this matter and Mr. Vazquez’s impugned credibility, we do not believe we could proceed with this prosecution of Mr. Williams to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Initially, Vazquez told police he was on his way home from work – he’s a dishwasher at a Manhattan restaurant – when he was jumped by three men, one Hispanic and two African Americans.

In the interview with El Diario, he revised his account. “I’m walking home. A guy says to me, ‘I’ve got weed.’ I say, ‘No, I’m good.’ He says, ‘I’ll give it to you for $5.’ So I give him $10 and he gives me a bag with almost nothing in it. I think, ‘Well, they just ripped me off, but whatever.’ I asked for the change and he didn’t want to.”

“Then a Puerto Rican showed up and he says, ‘What do you have in your hand?’ Then they started hitting me from behind.”

The Vazquez incident was one of eleven attacks on Staten Island over the summer that were initially classified as hate crimes. Five were down-graded from hate crimes following investigations.

Pro-immigrant groups regretted the dismissed charges, saying that even though drugs were involved in the encounter, that doesn’t excuse an attack with racial slurs. Norman Eng, an organizer at the New York Immigration Coalition, remarked, “We have to keep in mind that a serious crime took place and it’s terribly unfortunate that they’ve dismissed the charges […] particularly if you put it in the context of all the attacks on Staten Island, it’s very unfortunate.”

This story is based on an article Annie Correal wrote for El Diario/La Prensa on September 15.

AboutAnnie Correal
Annie Correal is a reporter based in New York, where she has covered crime, immigration and breaking news for The New York Times and El Diario, and contributed radio pieces to WNYC, NPR and This American Life. She is working on a new, Spanish language storytelling podcast, Radio Ambulante ( scheduled to launch in 2012. Annie was born in Bogota and raised between California and Colombia.