New Mexico Attorney General Investigating Possible Hate Crime at UNM

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is looking into whether a student violated any hate crime laws by allegedly posting hateful messages against Hispanics on the Internet following the desecration of the Mexican flag at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Phil Sisneros, director of communications for the attorney general’s office, told Diverse that they are willing to look at the facts surrounding the case at the request of the New Mexico chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“I am not a lawyer,” he said, “(But) hate crimes usually need to be directed at a person. In this case there was no person at the other end of that.”

He indicated the office had also invited LULAC officials to meet with state officials to discuss the incident but no meeting had been set.

The incident, which began when a UNM student and Air Force veteran was accused of tearing down a Mexican flag left up after an observance of Mexican Independence Day, has stirred controversy at the university and in online discussion forums.

However, Pablo Martínez, the state’s LULAC director, said that its request for an inquiry was prompted by statements that the student is alleged to have made on the Internet that were “very inflammatory and derogatory remarks toward Mexicans.” LULAC asked the attorney general’s office to look into whether using the Internet and university equipment to spread remarks that indicate harmful intent constitutes a hate crime.

“I really want people to really understand our issue,” Martínez told Diverse. “A person has a right to free expression. It’s not so much the flag incident. Our organization is not loyal to the Mexican government. We are loyal to the U.S. government. What bothered us more about this incident is the blog. We asked the attorney general to investigate as a possible hate crime because it violates our statutes.”

Sisneros said he did not know what criteria would have to be met to consider the statements a hate crime, adding, “But I’m sure that is part of what our attorneys are looking at,” said Sisneros.

John Moya, president of the Albuquerque LULAC Council, said the statements attributed to the student appeared on the social networking site MySpace under a group named “One Pissed Off American” on July 21, 2007, and have since been removed.

According to The Associated Press, the accused Peter Lynch, 30, admitted to tearing down the flag but defended it as an act of patriotism because the Mexican flag was not accompanied by an American flag. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty to a charge of criminal damage to property and is scheduled for a jury trial on Nov. 19.

Previous AP stories reported that the Mexican Student Association raised the flag outside Scholes Hall for Mexican Independence Day, alongside a U.S. flag and state flag for the observance on Sept. 15. An Army ROTC unit took down the American and New Mexican flag that evening, but assumed that the Mexican flag’s owners would retrieve it. However, no one did. On that Monday, the student identified as Lynch saw the Mexican flag flying alone and complained to university officials. Later, the student tore it down, ripped it up and took it to the Air Force ROTC office.

University officials apologized for the episode “on behalf of UNM to the Mexican Consul to New Mexico, Juan Manuel Solano; to the Mexican Student Association; to all Mexican nationals who have been affected by this deplorable act; and to anyone else who has been adversely affected.”

“Please know we are doing everything in our power to make sure this act will be sternly addressed,” said the statement signed by Dr. Rita Martínez-Purson, interim vice president for institutional diversity at the university.

In its request on Oct. 5, LULAC urged New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, to “conduct a criminal investigation … and to explore the possibility of prosecution of this being a hate crime case … premeditated with the intent to cause hate against Hispanics.”

The AP quoted Lynch as saying those who say he acted out of hate are “trying to make themselves out to be the victims, when in fact the American flag was the victim.”

Martínez said, however, that the blogs showed “hate toward a particular community … He made some blogs about killing wetbacks and getting a garrison and getting his friends to cause harm.”

The flag incident followed recent attacks on East Indian students and harassment of Miss Indian UNM, according to The Albuquerque Tribune.

Following the flag incident, Martínez-Purson said, “Obviously, we need to have strong dialogue across campus about respect for other people and their cultures.”

Meanwhile, various Internet forums indicate dialogue has already begun, and it has not always been civil. Dailylobo.com, an independent university site, Liberty.org, described as an uncensored news forum, and freerepublic.com, all had postings about the incident.

–Diverse Online Staff

 

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