Sunday, September 23, 2007
They could have burned my house down'. Burning of Mexican flag was just mischief; resident hopes it didn't mean more. I've never, ever had any racism towards me.
When Jennifer Martz decided to relocate from Pennsylvania to be closer to her mother in Cardington, she did her research.
"She lives too far out in the country," she said. "I like living in the city. I've always lived in the city."
Martz eventually decided that Marion would be the perfect central-Ohio city to raise her young son. Less than two months after making the move to a home on the city's northwest side, however, she is second-guessing that decision.
"I got up (Thursday morning) to take my son to school and I noticed there were black ashes on my front porch," Martz said. After further investigation, she discovered the charred remains of a Mexican flag she proudly displayed to celebrate her Mexican-American heritage.
"It's connected to my house. It's maybe five feet from my front door. They could have burned my house down," she said about the intentional act by someone to destroy her property.
A U.S. flag she displays next to the Mexican flag was untouched.
Maj. Bill Collins with the Marion Police Department said that officers have thoroughly investigated the incident as arson, but have come up with few leads in the case.
"There was no physical evidence found at the scene that would lead us to determine who it might have been," he said. "Nobody saw or heard anything unusual that night."
Collins said that the incident is being considered "simple criminal mischief."
Martz feels certain that her flag was burned as a message, and should constitute a hate crime.
"I was so taken aback," she said. "I've never, ever had any racism towards me."
Martz was born and raised in the United States. Her father, who is Mexican, wanted so much for her to assimilate with the American culture that he refused to teach her Spanish or any Mexican customs. It really wasn't until she became an adult that she began to research her heritage to learn more about herself.
For her, celebrating her heritage is also a way to celebrate the United States and the possibilities it has promised to so many immigrants for so long.
"There're people dying every day trying to cross the border to make a better life for themselves," she said. "I just think (the flag burning) has everything to do with the immigration issue."
Chantelle Blackburn, an advocate with the Hispanic Outreach Ministry at St. Mary Church said that ever since Sept. 11, 2001, immigration has become a heated debate for many U.S. citizens.
"It's almost hysteria," she said. "There is a fear of foreigners, of people who are different."
Blackburn said that this is just another example of how terrorists have succeeded in disrupting the American way of life. What people are forgetting, however, is that we are all immigrants.
"To me, this is almost on the level of a cross burning," she said, adding that anti-Hispanic sentiments are alive and well in the Marion community. "There are some (Hispanics) who are afraid, mostly for their children."
Collins said that he is not aware of anyone targeting Hispanics in the area.
"Everybody seems to be getting along," he said. "There's nothing that leads us to believe this would be a hate crime."
In Aug. 2006, police investigated an incident that occurred on Silver Street in which a man threw a homemade chemical bomb at the home of a Hispanic family. No one was injured in the incident and prosecutors charged the suspect in the case with a fifth-degree felony count of possession of a deadly ordnance as they said it was unclear what the suspect's motivation was.
In an interview with The Marion Star, the suspect said that the incident was a prank and that he did not intentionally target the Mexican family.
In order to be considered a hate crime, Collins said that there must be some type of evidence indicating the crime was racially motivated.
"You have to have some other facts or circumstances that would even suggest that and we don't have that here," he said, explaining that evidence could be a nasty telephone call or a spray-painted racial slur. "There has to be a reason."
Arson involving property damage of $500 or more is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, under Ohio Law.
If the crime was determined to be racially motivated, the suspect could be charged with ethnic intimidation, which would bump the misdemeanor arson charge of a fifth-degree felony, punishable by a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine, according to the Ohio Revised Code.
Collins suspects the burning to be the result of juveniles, an opinion that was strengthened Friday morning after Martz's neighbor reported that one of his windows had been broken by a rock and that he witnessed two juveniles fleeing the area.
Martz isn't sure what to think, but she refuses to be intimidated and plans on hanging another flag soon.
"If they burn that one, I'm just going to put another one up. I'm not going to take it down," she said. "I'm not going to be scared the rest of my life."
Her mother, Janice Hutton, however, expressed concern for her daughter and grandson.
"If Jenny continues to try to put a flag up, they may try to stop her another way," Hutton said.