Editor’s Note: Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) wrote to the Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice demanding DOJ investigate an incident that took place last month in a Cook County, IL park, which was captured on a video that has gone viral (https://www.facebook.com/NowThisPolitics/videos/2152660761432069/). The incident concerns a man who verbally and physically intimidates a woman, identified as Mia Irizzary, who is wearing a t-shirt with the Puerto Rican flag, while an officer with the Forest Preserve of Cook County looks on, avoiding responding to the man and offering no help to the woman who was being harassed.
I understand this incident on a gut level because almost exactly the same thing happened to me when I was a freshman in Congress. I was denied entry into the Capitol complex by U.S. Capitol Police despite being a Congressman with identification, because my daughter was carrying a Puerto Rican flag and the officer doubted that I could possibly be a Member of Congress. So this kind of incident is unfortunately not unusual and though we did not have viral videos 25 years ago, I wish I had done more then to stop the kind of behavior on display in Ms. Irizarry’s video, so that we can prevent the cycles of hatred and bigotry that often repeat themselves today.
In this case, an American citizen questions the citizenship of another American citizen in an ugly and aggressive way and American law-enforcement just sits back and watches.
Because of the seriousness of the encounter, the fact that it targeted the Puerto Rican community in and around my District, and growing number of anti-Latino and anti-immigrant hate crimes being reported, I demand the Civil Rights Division investigate to see if federal civil rights charges are warranted.
I would like to remind you of your division’s responsibilities which are to enforce federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.
I can’t tell what upsets me more about this clip:
1) The racist drunk who thinks Latinos – including Puerto Ricans – are a threat to the United States.
2) The officer who does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to protect the safety of the woman being harassed by the man; OR
3) The fact that this took place in Cook County, Illinois, right in our back-yard.
There is a culture of bigotry and hate that has been condoned in this country since forever, which now feels unleashed to express itself in the most ugly and aggressive ways. In this case, an American citizen questions the citizenship of another American citizen in an ugly and aggressive way and American law-enforcement just sits back and watches.
I don’t care that she is Puerto Rican or wearing a Puerto Rican flag t-shirt just because I am Puerto Rican. We all should care because we are decent human beings and we need to stand up to bigotry and bullies. Whether they are old racists at a park, Cook County employees who do nothing, or Presidents who toss paper towels at people in need and denigrate Latinos with every Tweet, this is not the America we want to become, it is not the Illinois we want to become and standing up to hate and bigotry must start at home in Cook County.
Rep. Gutiérrez is the Dean of the Illinois delegation and a thirteen-term Member of Congress from Chicago. He is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.