Mayor Tom Barrett said on November 5 that President Donald Trump’s racial rhetoric was responsible for violent hate crimes, like an acid attack which left a Milwaukee man with second-degree burns on November 1.
Mahud Villaluz said that a man confronted him over a parking spot, called him “an illegal,” and told him to “go back to [his] country” before throwing battery acid at him.
“I look at this in the context of what’s going on right now in our country, where we’ve got the president of the United States who on a daily basis seems to create more division in this country,” Mayor Barrett said of Trump’s encouragement of anti-immigrant sentiment and even violence. “It’s because the president is talking about it on a daily basis that people feel they have license to go after Hispanic people, and it’s wrong. We as a nation, as a community, have to take a step back and realize we’re all here together. When you have disagreements – and there was a disagreement, and there will be conversations about the cause of the disagreement and what happened. But you don’t begin the conversation with a racial slur and end it by throwing acid in somebody’s face.”
The incident was caught on surveillance video, and a 61-year-old man was arrested in connection with the crime, identified as Clifton A. Blackwell.
“One of my biggest concerns is this type of racial verbal attack, and now a physical attack, is condoned at the highest level of government in our country. It’s not okay, it’s horrible,” added the Mayor. “When you see something like this happen, this anger towards people from other countries, is being fed by our president and by his followers – what we saw over the weekend was a manifestation of that anger.”
Mayor Barrett added that the incident was “obviously” a hate crime. The attack on Villaluz comes six months after the president laughed at a rally in Panama City Beach, Florida after an attendee shouted that migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border should be shot.
“Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” Trump said at the rally.
Villalaz was treated at a hospital and released, but is still seeing doctors due to his blurry vision. He described the alleged attack in a press conference on November 3.
“He started arguing, saying, ‘Why you came here and invade my country? Why you came here illegally?'” he told reporters. “[I said], ‘Sir, you don’t know my status. I’m a U.S. citizen too. He got mad when I told him everybody came here from somewhere else.”
Villalaz is a 42-year-old U.S. citizen who was born in Peru. He has been in the United States for 19 years, according to Darryl Morin, president of Forward Latino. Morin is helping the family manage media requests and deal with the incident.
“It’s our understanding that the Milwaukee Police Department is investigating this as a hate crime,” said Morin. “I don’t see how it could be anything else, as this is sadly and tragically a textbook case of hate. I daresay it was premeditated, because no one walks around with a bottle of acid and hangs out in a predominantly Latino neighborhood for no reason.”
Some Milwaukee news media have reported a secondary narrative about the acid attack, seemingly intended to redirect the issue of racism and deflect the attacker’s responsibility. They have noted that Blackwell was a veteran who suffered from PTSD.
However, Saul Newton, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce, rebuked such media reports as irresponsible in his social media post.
“I am a veteran receiving care from the VA for post traumatic stress disorder,” said Newton. “And yet, I’ve managed not to throw acid in the face of someone because their skin is a different color or because they speak with an accent. Maybe this guy has PTSD, maybe he doesn’t. But PTSD has nothing to do with racism, bigotry, and acts of hatred. It’s beyond unconscionable to conflate the two, and contribute to the perception of military veterans as inherently dangerous to society.”
Lee Matz and Mahud Villalaz
Portions originally published on CommonDreams.org as Milwaukee Mayor Blames Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Policies for Acid Attack Against Hispanic Resident