When a suspect in a high-profile criminal case turns out to belong to an ethnic minority group, it often opens their communities up to negative associations. The recent commentary from rightwing pundits and a few ugly confrontations and acts of violence against Muslims following the Boston bombings provide a recent reminder.
Cleveland's prosecutor Victor Perez moved to stomp those concerns out immediately.
Perez defended Puerto Ricans as he announced the charges Wednesday against Ariel Castro, who is accused of holding three women captive and sexually abusing them for roughly a decade.
In comments to the press, Victor Perez said:
As the chief prosecutor for the city of Cleveland, born and raised in Puerto Rico, I want everyone to know that the acts of the defendants in this criminal case are not a reflection of the rest of the Puerto Rican community, here or in Puerto Rico.
Castro was charged with kidnapping and raping Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight on Wednesday. Castro had allegedly held the women captive in his home for years. Berry gave birth to a child six years ago while held at Castro’s home, according to news reports.
A part-time jazz musician and one-time school bus driver, Castro’s late ex-wife Grimilda Figueroa said that he had beaten her several times. According to the Daily Beast:
In her petition for an order of protection, ex-wife Grimilda Figueroa stated that Castro had “broken petitioner’s nose (twice), ribs, lacerations, knocked out tooth, blood clot on brain, (inoperable tumor), dislocated shoulder, (twice, once on each side) threatened to kill petitioner and daughters 3 to 4 times just this year.
Perez wasn’t the only one worried that the shocking crime might negatively impact American perceptions of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Police Chief Héctor Pesquera told WKAQ on Wednesday that he “would have personally removed” the island’s flag from the Castro’s front porch, where it was visible in pictures and news broadcast, alongside an American flag.
Arielle Rios, a Puerto Rican from Cleveland writing for ABC News, expressed a similar concern:
When the house where the girls were held captive was shown on the news, I could not help but notice the swaying Puerto Rican flag on the porch pillar. My father Manuel's initial reaction was that this would bring a lot of shame to the community. These horrific actions are in no way a reflection of all Puerto Rican men.