Charlottesville

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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