A Trump-Inspired Hate Crime in Boston

One of two men who allegedly beat a homeless Hispanic man cited the Republican presidential candidate’s criticism of immigrants as a motivation. Latino leaders aren’t surprised.

Seth Wenig / AP

The impact of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant broadsides appears to have veered dangerously far off the presidential campaign trail.

Police in Boston say that one of two brothers who allegedly beat a homeless Hispanic man cited Trump’s message on immigration as a motivation for their attack. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” Scott Leader, 38, told officers, according to a police report cited by The Boston Globe.

Leader and his brother, Steve, were arrested and charged with multiple assault charges after police said they urinated on and then assaulted a 58-year-old homeless man they found sleeping outside a T-station as they walked home from a Red Sox game. They allegedly beat him with a metal pole, breaking his nose and causing other injuries. According to the Globe, Scott Leader told police it was OK to assault the man because he was Hispanic and homeless. Both men, who have extensive criminal records, pleaded not guilty and said the homeless man started the confrontation.

Officials in Boston immediately denounced the attack. But Trump, who has made no apology for suggesting some Mexican immigrants were “rapists” and calling for their mass deportation, appeared to brush off the incident when he was asked about it while campaigning Wednesday in New Hampshire. “I think that would be a shame,” he said, according to The Boston Herald, in reference to the report. He said he hadn’t heard about the incident but then defended his most ardent supporters as “passionate.”

I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.

For Latino leaders who repeatedly denounced Trump’s rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, the most disturbing part of the attack in Boston was how unsurprising it was. “It’s a pattern that we have seen over the last decade in the nation with enforcement only policies and this anti-immigrant rhetoric,” said Hector Sanchez, the chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, in a phone interview, “I was not surprised.”

Sanchez said he has repeatedly warned that Trump’s statements, which have been laughed off as clownish in some quarters, are taken far more seriously in the Latino community. “When Trump is having this kind of anti-Latino and anti-immigrant language, he’s not only a clown talking in general, his language has a direct impact in the quality of life of Latinos,” he said. Sanchez said he believed that a 50 percent rise in hate crimes against Hispanics over the last five years is “directly correlated” to anti-immigrant rhetoric from conservatives. Before Trump’s emergence in the last few months, inflammatory statements from Republican members of Congress like Steve King and Louie Gohmert made national headlines.

Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, called Trump’s response to the attack “morally bankrupt.”

This pattern of hateful rhetoric has officially passed the of point of extremist words and has turned into alarming action. This is more than just bad politics. When political debate encourages an atmosphere where hateful actions and hurtful rhetoric get mainstreamed, it’s bad for the country.

Yet with Trump’s rivals in the Republican field responding to his rise by running to the right on immigration, there seems to be little that Latino leaders can do beside denounce the party and promise retribution at the polls next year. “Unfortunately, a lot of those extremist views are now reflective of the Republican Party,” Sanchez said. Will the outrage of the hate-fueled attack in Boston prompt the GOP to take on Trump more directly? Perhaps. But if Trump’s establishment-be-damned campaign strategy is a guide, it might not do much good.