The vigilante attack on three migrants workers in Alpine by bat-wielding men is symptomatic of racism countywide and should be denounced, community activists said Thursday.
Representatives of most of the groups at a news conference applauded the Sheriff Department's response to the incident, and demanded that the investigation continue until the assailants are brought to justice. Such attacks, they added, will continue unless the larger issue of racial bias against Latino migrants is addressed.
Three men--two Mexicans and a Guatemalan--were seriously wounded Oct. 1 at an Alpine migrant encampment in an attack that was meant as retaliation for the alleged rape of an Anglo woman in the area. No one is in custody in connection with either incident.
On Monday, the Sheriff's Department dispatched several extra detectives to Alpine. Also, the FBI is investigating to see whether the attack violated the victims' civil rights.
Raymond Uzeta, executive director of the Chicano Federation, said the vigilante response to the rape should be viewed as a serious problem.
"We wonder whether the self-appointed vigilantes would have made the attack if the alleged perpetrator was an Anglo. I think not," Uzeta said.
The attack took place in an encampment of migrant workers in the center of Alpine that has been home to day laborers--most of them in the country legally--for several years.
Migrants who live at the camp are hired as day laborers by contractors and homeowners. Their presence is resented by some Alpine residents, who blame them for a broad range of crimes in the community.
"This is not an isolated incident," said Roberto Martinez, of the American Friends Service Committee, which is offering a reward of at least $3,000 for information leading to an arrest in connection with the attack.
Martinez said he received a call about another bat attack on two migrants in Alpine about six months ago. His group participated in more than a year of talks about the migrant issue by a broad spectrum of Alpine residents that ended in deadlock.
"The main opposition was by people who felt that the migrants' presence was detrimental to the image of Alpine--and this is what we have seen all over the county," Martinez said, adding that he would only get involved in a dialogue again if the community commits to exploring solutions.
Citizens should encourage their elected representatives to denounce the latest attack publicly and pressure law enforcement officials to stay on top of the investigation, said Raul Silva Martinez of the South Bay Organizing Committee, and a state Assembly candidate.
"We urge members of the community to rise up, speak out and stand up for what is right. Call and send letters to elected officials," he said.
Tuesday, the San Diego Coalition for Equality--formed in the wake of the Los Angeles riots to deal with issues of racism--issued a statement denouncing the attack.
While Martinez and a Mexican consular official praised the Sheriff Department's response to the attack, Martinez said he would like to see similar attacks on migrants treated this way.
Sheriff Jim Roache has recognized the Oct. 1 attack as a hate crime, but Martinez said two recent attacks on migrants in Fallbrook by Anglo men wielding steel pipes were not treated by authorities as racially motivated.
No one has been arrested in connection with either the Alpine rape or the assault, which victims said was carried out by six to eight Anglos with baseball bats.
"We're certainly not close to an arrest," said Lt. Sylvester Washington. "What we need is a positive ID, as opposed to a third-party hearsay situation. Those are rampant out here right now. We don't want to submit a case to the district attorney that he's going to reject."
Three additional detectives were assigned to the Sheriff's Alpine substation to help out the one Alpine detective working the case, Washington said. They have split into two teams to investigate the alleged rape and baseball-bat beating.
The rape victim had come up with a composite sketch the rapist, but was unable to identify her assailant by looking at mug shots, Sheriff's Department spokesman Dan Greenblat said.
"We initially had a suspect and it didn't pan out," Washington said.
"We are looking for victims, witnesses, looky-loos, anybody," said Detective Al Garcia of the bat attack. "We have descriptions we're working on. We have leads."
Mexican police in Mexicali and Tecate are cooperating with the investigation, Greenblat said.
Jose Luis Lopez, 39, was beaten on the face and head and will require plastic surgery. He has returned to Mexicali.
Thursday, Leobardo Zarco, 32, of Mexico City, was upgraded to fair condition at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he has been undergoing treatment for a head laceration, a severe gash on an arm and a shattered knee, a hospital spokeswoman said. Zarco has asked the Mexican Consulate to help him return to Mexico City when he gets out of the hospital.
The third victim, 32-year-old Oscar Mendoza, is a Guatemalan who has lived in the United States for 14 years. He suffered a head laceration and broken arm that required surgery.
Zarco and Mendoza had heard there was work in Alpine and arrived the day before the attack, Mendoza said, adding that the men had arranged to start work Saturday.
Lopez, a Mexicali resident whose wife is expecting a baby, has worked for a Santee motorcycle shop for more than a year. He slept at the encampment or in a nearby parked car during the week, and would return to his family on weekends.