ORANGE, NJ — Hate crime laws are intended to deter bias-motivated crimes. Anti-Hispanic hate crimes rose in 2019 and New Jersey ranked No. 11 for most anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, making them one of the most targeted groups. The total severity of the impact and damage caused by hate crimes needs to be experienced to be fully understood. Many go unreported, most suffer in silence.
In August 2020, my family was the target of a bias intimidation attack at our home in Orange, NJ. The perpetrator of the hate crime was outside our home yelling anti-gay hate speech using my name specifically targeting me. Immediately I filed a police report, showed video evidence, and did a follow-up interview a few weeks later as requested by the Orange Police Department.
We live across the street from a Veteran’s
Hospital and just up the block from a public elementary school. That should give pause and alarm to the parents of the community that this is happening so close to home. This could be a child whose family lives next door to someone who doesn’t like the color of their skin. All hate crimes should be prosecuted equally without exception.
The hate speech started in September 2019 when a voice yelled over the fence threatening assault. Because we live just half a block from South Orange, we’ve been so fortunate that the SOMA Against Hate Collective members and their network have been a guiding light for us. Their ‘Hate Has No Place’ campaign has been an inspiration.
This incident escalated from a documented noise / nuisance complaint which had been going on since we moved to Orange in December 2016. Despite documenting the violations of city ordinance, notifying the police, and providing evidence to the city council this attack on my family has gone without a criminal charge.
The perpetrator of the crime is a former employee of the City of Orange. The property from where the hate speech came from has consistently disregarded city ordinances for at least a decade as documented by one of our neighbors just a few houses down.
We are not activists, we are not asking for preferential treatment. We have contributed to the community by volunteering at the community food bank, planting gardens for seniors in Orange. My husband has been treating patients at assisted living facilities since the start of the pandemic to this day, even treating the father of one of the city council members in their own home.
Our mayor was part of an LGTBQ+ conference held in Newark, New Jersey along with 4 other neighboring city mayors. At that conference we were told we were valued and welcome. This has not been the case for my family. All we ask is that we are allowed the dignity of living in peace in this city we have come to love without the threat to our lives because of who we are. Hate crimes are dehumanizing, traumatizing, and demoralizing in a way that words cannot express. I am so thankful for the counselor provided by the Essex Special Victim of Crime Unit.
We ask the city of Orange to recognize and prosecute the anti-bias discrimination hate crimes with the city ordinances and the state and federal law which already apply. I have stood up and spoken at community events, police rallies, neighborhood events. We’ve been slandered and targeted as racists putting our lives at risk during times of uprising civil unrest.
Our community is only as strong as the most vulnerable ones are protected.
In solidarity with Manny, Mary Edwards wrote the following:
Subject: Letter for Justice
To Whom It May Concern,
I am writing this in solidarity with, and for the justice of, my friends Manny Ortega and his husband who reside at in Orange, New Jersey. On August 30, 2020, Manny and his husband were victims of bias intimidation hate crime because of their orientation. I am deeply concerned for their lives and I find it incredulous that the individuals who committed this hate crime have not been brought to justice! I am an African-American female and I would like to share with you the effects of the hate crime that I was the target of just a few months ago.
On September 3, 2020 my simple act of walking into my local dry cleaners in NYC yielded an unfortunate and uninstigated encounter with a man I’d never met before, loitering outside. Upon seeing me, he began expectorating and hurling racial epithets began before I even crossed the threshold. He continually exclaimed as he spat, "You black niggers want everything! You want to take over the world! You're a f*cking NIGGER!" I documented his unacceptable behavior, not to
garner sympathy, but to bring awareness that as a Black woman minding my own business, I was a target for his virulent and vitriolic racism, as he felt entitled to do so.
Historically, whenever I hear that word, especially in that inflection, it signals danger. Spitting at someone, especially during a pandemic is a vile assault. He knew what he was doing, and he knows where he stands. I simply walked by, and he was triggered by the color of my skin. This inexcusable hate crime took place within blocks from my house. I should be able to feel safe as a citizen. While I have followed up with the case, I am diligently seeking rightful closure.
When I heard of the equally dehumanizing and criminal situation of my friends in their own home I was left speechless. There is documented bias racial intimidation and bias intimidation due to their orientation. I wanted to bring to your attention that these incidents are not isolated, and should be handled with respect to the victims who deserve safety where they live. Hate crimes have demoralizing effects that can last a lifetime. To allow for any hate crime to go unprosecuted has lingering negative consequences not just for the individuals who suffer at the hands of those that go unpunished, but for the community as a whole.