By Patrick Young
This post originally appeared at Long Island Wins.
The killing of a Mexican immigrant by a group of young men in Shenandoah, Pa., has focused attention on corruption and racism in the declining coal town.
Thomas O’Neill, former mayor of Shenadoah, Pa., told the local Republican Herald newspaper that he was not surprised by the arrest of four local cops in connection with corruption and covering up the killing of Luis Ramirez. The mayor, who resigned after the killing, said:
“If they want to help somebody, they will, If they want to hurt somebody, they’ll hurt them. There’s nothing they could do that they couldn’t get away with. That’s what they thought.”
‘They made them heroes’
The newspaper also interviewed Eileen Burke, a witness to the attack and a former police officer herself. Her remarks are chilling:
Eileen Burke, a former Philadelphia police officer who moved back to her native Shenandoah, said she saw its bleakest example firsthand. After the beating, Ramirez lay about 15 feet in front of her house at Vine and Lloyd streets. From her porch Thursday, she pointed to a manhole cover in the middle of the street where she kneeled over him as he convulsed on July 12, 2008.
A nearby utility pole once had “RIP” scrawled onto it, but it has since been painted over. Now there is only a faint orange blob to mark the spot.
“I knew there was a cover-up,” Burke said. “I knew.”
Police from other municipalities and state police responded to the scene before a single Shenandoah police officer arrived, she said.
“I sat on my porch that night, from when it happened at approximately 11:15, until 2:30 in the morning,” Burke said. “No one came to me to ask what I saw, what I did.”
It wasn’t until 10 days later that Shenandoah police dropped off a paper on which she was asked to write out a witness statement, Burke said. In the months after, she said she watched the teens walk around town as if nothing wrong had happened. People coddled and protected them, she said, because they were star athletes in a town where Blue Devils football is the primary preoccupation and where the newest immigrants, Latinos who come to work on farms or in factories, are often seen as aloof and unwelcome.
“They made them heroes,” Burke said. ” ‘Free the three.’ They wanted to make shirts up and everything, because it was our illustrious football team.”
When she walked around town, some people called her a “Mexican lover” or told her to “go see a Mexican,” Burke said.
The four arrested officers have now resigned from the force.