Monthly Archives: August 2017

3 posts

Puerto Ricans’ Thorny Response to Hate Speech

Six panelists engaged in a public discussion of hate speech and free speech at the Jewish Community Center in Maitland. Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel was the moderator. /Maria Padilla

 

Hate speech is a thorny issue, as recently proven by the Puerto Rican community’s reaction to the social media video of Puerto Rican Alex Michael Ramos of Georgia who rioted with white nationalists in Charlottesville and bragged of his dubious exploits.

When confronted with the news, many in Orlando’s Puerto Rican community questioned whether “he was really a Puerto Rican.”

Alex Michael Ramos

“He is not Puerto Rican.” “He was not born in Puerto Rico.” If you’re born in the states you’re not Puerto Rican.” “Only those born in Puerto Rico can call themselves Puerto Ricans.” And so it went.

It matters little whether Ramos was born in the states or Puerto Rico. That is a dead-end conversation – a stale and sterile non-starter. And, frankly, who cares?

The Ramos dilemma should have prompted a soul searching discussion among Puerto Ricans like the one this week at the Jewish Community Center in Maitland on free speech/hate speech that drew a crowd of several hundred.

Six engaging panelists attempted to shed light on what constitutes free speech and hate speech, and what communities can do about it, answering questions on the minds of many.

“The way we respond to Charlottesville is what defines us as a country,” said Mark Freid, president of the Holocaust Memorial Center adjacent to the JCC.

Protected Speech

Understandably but disconcertingly, one of the things Americans must learn to do is tolerate hate speech as part of the First Amendment. “Hate speech is offensive speech,” said Terri Day, constitutional law professor at Barry University School of Law. “The Supreme Court has pretty much protected offensive speech.”

Do we want to have the government dictate good and bad ideas? asked Day, who defended the right of white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak at the University of Florida, which cancelled his event. “The government cannot discriminate between the content, viewpoint or speaker.”

State Senator Geraldine Thompson (D-Dist. 12) pushed the conversation from the abstract to the real world, emphasizing that “words have power. If we can demonize a person, we can annihilate them.”

Extremists as Victims

Former Neo Nazi Skinhead Angela King, who served three years in jail for her role in an armed robbery of a Jewish-owned store, said she was torn between free speech and hate speech. But any publicity, she added, amplifies the message of far right extremists. “Good publicity, bad publicity. No matter. It was good for us.”

Extremists see themselves as victims, she explained. Denial of free speech provokes extremists to double down on the notion. “If someone told us no, then we could say we are the ones being persecuted.”

The recent relatively peaceful protest in Boston was held up as an example of how to handle free speech or hate speech rallies. “Boston did a phenomenal job of keeping the sides separated,” said Orlando Police Chief John Mina, adding that weapons or objects that could be used as weapons were prohibited at the protest.

“We have no open carry in Florida and many chiefs across the country have had to deal with that,” he explained. Some local governments are passing ordinances that restrict open carry during rallies, he said.

Push Back

Thompson and Mitchell Bloom, Holocaust Memorial Center resource teacher, offered other ways to counter hate speech. Thompson cited this year’s graduation protest at Bethune Cookman University, Daytona Beach, in which students turned their backs on speaker Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  “It doesn’t mean we have to listen to them,” she said.

Thompson also mentioned the march of Skinheads through Parramore in 1995, an act of provocation to the predominantly black community. “What they want is violence and I suggested [residents] stay home or just be observers.”

Bloom, meanwhile, indicated the community should push back on hate speech with facts and by relating personal stories, which are softer and less confrontational. “There are people who can be won over.”

Prepare

Rachel Allen of Valencia College’s Peace and Justice Institute, said creating a safe space for different voices is important, not as the namby-pamby coddling of feelings but as a space guided by principles on how to have that conversation.

Said Allen: “Gandhi said free speech was America’s greatest freedom but he also said we must prepare.”

Returning to the Puerto Rican who marched in Charlottesville, the Puerto Rican community in Orlando  must learn to peacefully confront Puerto Ricans whose beliefs offend common values and sensibilities.

For it matters not if Ramos was born in Puerto Rico or the states, only that he is a lost soul with whom we need to engage so that others don’t follow his destructive path.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Rican Identified in Charlottesville Hate Protest

A Puerto Rican man identified as Alex Michael Ramos participated in the Nazi, Klan and white nationalist disturbances in Charlottesville.

A Puerto Rican man from Georgia has been identified as a participant in the Charlottesville white nationalist, neo Nazi, KKK rally that resulted in three deaths last week.

According to NotiUno, a Puerto Rico radio news station, the man is Alex Michael Ramos. According to the group Atlanta Antifascists, Ramos is associated with the Atlanta Proud Boys/FOAK, which stands for Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, and the III% Security Force, which the Southern Poverty Law Center described as a Georgia anti-Muslim group.

Ramos’ involvement in the Charlottesville disturbance is proof that non Hispanic white men are not the only ones attracted to hate groups, even though many such groups are anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. This makes the current hate-group surge a more complex phenomenon, not governed by old binary constructs of black and white.

NotiUno reported that Ramos published a video on social media apparently after the Charlottesville events. In the video, Ramos is wearing a red tee shirt that states in big letters “South” and wipes his sweaty brow from time to time as he looks out the car as if he were a watch-out.

Ramos, who speaks with a slight southern drawl, said he is doing the 57-minute video because he wants people to ask him questions about Charlottesville. He claimed that he didn’t speak for anyone but himself. “I marched with them for one common f—–g goal – to beat back the f—–g leftists,” he said, mentioning Antifa, a loose group of far left anti-fascists. “They all ran away like little f—–g f—s.”

But the real reason for the video may be that Ramos is hungry for publicity.

Video Rant

During his video rant he comments on how many viewers he has drawn. At one point, he laments that he has only two viewers. “Only two?” Later the viewers increase to 13.

“I’m not a f—–g racist, understand?” Ramos says in the f-bomb laden, hour-long video. “I’m Puerto Rican.”

“I’ve done some hard shit in New York, you know. Born and raised in The Bronx,” he added. “I came from ghetto to non ghetto. It’s f—–g life changing, all right?” Ramos said most of his family lives in Puerto Rico, but he also has relatives in Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Philadelphia.

“Not a Nazi”

He asserted that he was not a Nazi or a Klan member. “If I was a f—–g Nazi, I would have used this,” he said, holding up a gun in a holster, for which Ramos said he had a permit.

At one point, he raises a U.S. flag from the back seat to prove that he’s not a Nazi because Nazis “don’t like this,” he said referring to the flag.

But Ramos, sporting a long pony tail and beard, then says he’s going “shave his head bald and look like KKK. … I’m a neo f—–g Nazi, Puerto Rican guy. F—–g carrajo, man.”

Brown Klans Member

He laughed as he said, “I’m the only brown Klans member I ever met.” And later he adds, “I’m not even f—–g white. I’m puertorriqueño,” Ramos says drawing out the word.I’m Spanish. I’m the pueriklan.”

Ramos said he knew a lot about his history. “I’m a Taíno,” he said, referring to Puerto Rico’s native people.

Ramos’ Wrath

He reserved most of his wrath for Trump, Charlottesville, the federal government and more.

Ramos accused the government of being corrupt, “especially the liberal government,” adding that Trump is intimidated by politicians.

“Hey, Trump, you called me a f—–g Nazi because I helped beat some ass. … They weren’t racist with me. They were cool with me. Somebody sprayed me in the f—–g eye and I got blinded for a few minutes. Who had my back? They did. … Trump, shut the f–k up, man. You need to go with the right or move to the left. Pick one.”

“Left Is Waging War”

He accused the left of waging war because the folks at the Unite the Right rally were peaceful, he said. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

Charlottesville was treasonous, he charged, blaming the city’s police for “allowing” a car to drive down a street and mow down anti-protestors, killing one. “That street was supposed to be closed off. … Law enforcement stood by and watched people hurt each other and did nothing to stop it.”

Ramos commented that he “was glad I stomped some ass out there, some f—–g antifa guys.”

Apparently, a viewer commented that he’s a “broken down car living in a trailer” and he answers in Spanish, “Mira, cabrón, cállete la boca, puta. Hey, I speak Spanish.”

Push Back, Not Questions

Throughout the video, Ramos received few questions but plenty of push back. He was particularly peeved at being called a racist.

He trotted out the old trope that he’s not a racist because his best friend “Joe” is black. “Everybody I know laughs when they hear people say I’m a racist.”

He ended the video tirade by saying, “I went there to defend my constitutional rights. I would do it again anywhere. You hit me up and tell me you need my help.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Rico Crisis Poses Challenge to Concept of Free

The Cabo Rojo lighthouse in southwest Puerto Rico dates to the 1700s. The town, known for its picturesque coast, was the first to implement a small fee for garbage collection. /Maria Padilla

Like the cookies that follow you around the internet after you’ve clicked on a website, the neon orange plastic garbage bags of Puerto Rico followed me around the island on a recent visit.

Starting with Cabo Rojo in southwest coastal Puerto Rico, island municipalities are rolling out a recycling and garbage initiative in response to deep cuts in subsidies from the central island government. Residents now must buy the orange garbage bags at about $1.75 a pop to get their solid waste picked up – or face escalating fines.

It’s the first time municipalities have charged for garbage pick-up, which used to be free, as so many things are – or used to be – in Puerto Rico until the $70 billion fiscal meltdown. Because my family is from Cabo Rojo, we got an earful about the neon-colored bags during a 10-day visit to the island.

“It’s not a lot to pay,” said one retired teacher. “But people in Puerto Rico have become accustomed to getting everything for free.”

Furloughs and Savings

A symbol of the island’s sobering circumstances, the bright bags also represent a growing number of fees for services that residents now must pay for, services that previously were free. Next up, government furloughs mandated by the ruling Fiscal Control Board to take effect September 1.

The congressionally appointed Fiscal Control Board, which rules over the island including over the governor and legislature, is asking for over $200 million in additional savings this fiscal year, which began July. Hence, thousands of central government workers may be “furloughed” two days a month without pay in a move the board calls “right-sizing measures.” In addition,, some government retirees may see a cut in their pensions since the trusts are underfunded by over $40 billion and running out of cash.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and others are calling for civil disobedience. “I am prepared to be arrested,” Rosselló announced.

Political Suicide

Because the central and municipal governments have been employers of last resort in Puerto Rico for decades, slashing government payroll is a surefire way of becoming a one-term governor, of which there have been four in the past 16 years – Sila Calderón, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Luis Fortuño (who famously laid off about 17,000 workers) and Alejandro García Padilla.

It is a no-win situation and a no-win public display for voters’ sake, as TV commentator Jay Fonseca said. “Esto es un show,”  he said, likely to end in lawsuits costing scarce taxpayer dollars to try to avoid the inevitable.

Seizing the Moment

But even as the Rosselló administration rejects Fiscal Control Board measures, it’s seizing opportunities to push for long-sought economic reforms that unravel government ownership of cash-strapped public electric and water authorities, maritime systems, public schools and more.

The San Juan airport – the nation’s 43rd busiest, sandwiched between Sacramento and Fort Myers – was leased in 2009. And frankly, the facility is much improved.Jet Blue has a new terminal and many new shops and restaurants are open for business. The Margaritaville restaurant was packed with people, not parrot heads.

The cash crisis also is pushing the island’s 78 municipalities to partner. The Puerto Rico Senate quashed the idea of consolidating municipalities, a cowardly political act. No worries. They may disappear on their own, weighted down by debt and no cash. The mayors, however, are concerned about cuts to their $400 million annual central government subsidies. They are talking about consolidating municipal services, an idea whose time is way past due.

A municipal video explains the orange garbage bag concept.

Municipalities didn’t pay for electricity or water to government-owned utilities. Ever. Which helps explain the construction of water parks and other recreational amenities whose true costs were hidden. Now municipalities have to pay up. Which brings us back to the orange  plastic garbage bags.

Last June the town of Cabo Rojo held  three public hearings on the initiative. In one hearing a woman appeared to approve of the garbage measure but added, “Some people have more garbage than others and should pay more,” a novel concept. Based on these and other comments, residents pay only for as many garbage bags as they need, after recycling paper and plastic. The town estimates this comes to as little as three to four 15- to 30-gallon bags per month. 

“Remember, you are not buying a bag. You are buying a service,” the campaign stated. “The more you recycle, the fewer bags you’ll need.”

Still, tossing the decades-old concept of free is a hard sell for some Puerto Ricans.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor