CHICAGO — Venezuelan migrant teenagers who were attacked with a bat after school in Rogers Park last week were not the victims of a hate crime, according to Ald. Maria Hadden (49th). Instead, she says, the brawl resulted from “cultural differences” with Afghan students.
WGN aired a video of last Wednesday’s after-school fight between Sullivan High School students and spoke with two Venezuelan teens who were reportedly struck with baseball bats.
Mirna Mendez, the mother of a 15-year-old boy who was struck, told the station he suffered broken ribs and a black eye after being kicked and hit twice with a baseball bat. WGN reported that the boy “said he’s always been looked at differently for being new and learning the language, but he never imagined it would have led to this.”
Another Venezuelan student was also struck with a bat, according to the report.
In a letter to constituents on Friday, Hadden insisted the incident was not a hate crime.
“The fight broke out between a group of Afghan students and Venezuelan students over cultural differences,” she stated, without explaining what those differences were.
“A lack of familiarity with or exposure to cultures different from ours can be the source of misunderstandings and conflict,” the alderman continued.
“A couple of the young men involved in the fight are recent immigrants from Venezuela, and their families initially thought they were the victims of discrimination because of their immigration status,” Hadden wrote.
“A parent of one of the Venezuelan students went to the media before engaging with the school or being aware of the root cause of the conflict,” Hadden claimed.
She explained that “the majority of the student body” at Sullivan is “from immigrant and refugee families.”
“The school is adept at helping newly arrived students adjust to their new home and culture, but it’s not a process without conflict,” she continued.
In Illinois, a hate crime is defined as “an offense where a person or a group of people is targeted because of their actual or perceived identity,” according to the Attorney General’s office.
Hate crimes may be based on the offender’s perception of the victim’s “characteristics like race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability,” the office’s civil rights webpage says.