The Fear of Injustice

11.October.17

Everyone has a story to tell. Some of us will survive to tell you, some of us will not. Some of us will become inspirational stories of survival, some will end in tragedy.

Recently I was thinking about two stories, with a similar beginning and different endings. They are stories like those that happen to many people in Virginia and around the country – over and over again.

The first story is that of Ruben Urbina – a 15-year-old who was shot to death at his home in Prince William County, Virginia last month. Ruben was an honor roll student in Gainesville, a funny, shy teenager who liked computer games and extra helpings of his mother’s cooking. Prosecutors decided not to press charges, clearing the police officer who shot him of any wrongdoing.

When I heard the verdict, I cried. I cried because I know this could happen to other children. I know because of the second story, which happened to my own son.

Nearly three years ago, my kids and I were coming back from a party at Chuckie Cheese in Chevy Chase, Maryland. As we were dropping the last child off at his home after the party, a man appeared in front of us.

The man asked in a rude and gruff way why we were late. He demanded we apologize to the mother of the child, who he claimed was his friend – even though we had contacted her already to let her know we were running late. My son was 15 years-old at the time – and he did not like the way this man was disrespecting his mother. So he stood up, bravely and protectively, and asked the man to “back off.”

My son’s words enraged the man. He shoved my son into the middle of the street began to wrestle him to the ground. The situation escalated as the man grabbed my son by the neck, dragged him to a corner, and held a gun to his head, shouting “I will shoot you if I want. Do not make me shoot you!”

I was terrified for my sons’ life. The neighbors called the police – but when the police arrived, the man proudly pulled out his FBI badge and said, “I am an FBI supervisor of counterterrorism and this one [referring to my son], was a disruptive child.” That night, my son was transported to the hospital with a bleeding kidney, a broken wrist, a concussion and the feeling of the cold barrel of the officer’s gun against his temple, a memory that still lingers today. He also remembers the officer’s parting words: “f*** Mexicans – go home!”

Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt helpless as you feared for your child’s life? Have you ever gone through the humiliation of being called an immigrant that should go home – despite the fact that America is your only home? I have, and so have many other mothers like me in this state and in this country.

I’ve learned the hard way that we have to fight for our rights every day because hate crimes can happen to any parent, to any loved one, at any time. But we can’t put a stop to these tragedies alone. We need leaders who will stand up for us in Richmond and in Washington, D.C. We need leaders who will speak up for immigrants and people of color – the victims of anti-immigrant hatred and racial profiling each and every day. We need to elect leaders who believe black, brown and immigrant lives matter – and that law enforcement should be held accountable for the crimes they commit.

That’s why this election matters. Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor, is airing ads design to stoke racial fears and blame immigrants for gang violence. Like President Trump, Gillespie is using hateful rhetoric that poses a grave risk to families like mine – and thousands more across the Commonwealth. The Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, offers a different vision for Virginia: a promise to fight for criminal justice reform and ensure that equitable protection under the law is a right shared by all.

The FBI supervisor who assaulted my son was convicted of the attack, but a judge decided not to give him prison time, so he was never punished for his crime. Meanwhile, Ruben Urbina’s life ended in tragedy, he is dead and his family still seeks the justice denied them. We must elect leaders that will fight for our future and who will fight to protect all of our children.

Jasmine Moawad-Barrientos is lawyer, civil rights advocate and a Virginia-based communications fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.