Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Calls for Community Understanding after Beating and Death of Local Resident

July 12 started out as a 'normal' day in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. By the end of the day, however, Luis Ramirez (25), father of two and an undocumented immigrant had been brutally beaten and sustained head and body injuries that two days later led to his death. Ramirez worked in a local factory and also picked crops.

Shenandoah, a small hamlet of an estimated 5,600 residents is located 105 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Shenandoah was once a thriving mining town.Today, however, it is a shadow of what it once was, as the mines closed and the population decreased.

Shenandoah's residents still reflect the earlier patterns of migration to the town; Greeks, Irish, Italians and Lithuanians are visible participants in the town's cultural, political and social fabric. Over the last two decades Latinos have also settled in the town.

The death of Luis Ramirez has brought to the surface some of the fear and unspoken tensions in a once-thriving town now grappling with limited economic opportunities, changing demographics, and little communication between its diverse communities.(New York Times).

Local officials have filed charges against four teenagers that include homicide, ethnic intimidation, aggravated assault and several other offenses. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that they will also conduct investigations into this matter.

In the meantime, several actions have been taken to begin the healing process in Shenandoah. Recent actions included a press conference and a peaceful candlelight vigil. City leaders including the mayor attended the vigil as did many of Shenandoah's non-Latino and Latino residents. A service for healing and connecting community was held at the First United Methodist Church on August 10th. Additional actions to promote dialogue and community are also being considered.