[Hpn] Slaying of homeless man prompts concern over racial tensions in New Jersey city

media@ccsi.com media@ccsi.com
Mon, 25 Jun 2001 20:31:44 -0500

Slaying of homeless man prompts concern over racial tensions in New Jersey
Associated Press Writer 
Associated Press Newswires 
PATERSON, New Jersey (AP) - A homeless man was beaten and kicked to death
by a rampaging group of teen-agers in an attack that has heightened concern
over tensions between blacks and Hispanics in this gritty industrial city. 
Hector Robles, 42, was attacked shortly after police broke up a fight last
week between blacks and Hispanics at a nearby high school. Witnesses told
police he was swarmed by black teen-agers who took his beer bottle and
smashed him in the head with it before beating him to death. 
Eleven teen-agers have been arrested. 
"They kicked him like a dog," said the man's sister, Miriam Robles. "It
looks to me like it was a racial thing. It was only blacks and he was
Hispanic, and because he was Hispanic, they took his bottle of beer and
cracked his head open with it and left him for dead." 

Prosecutor Bob Corrado said prosecutors do not believe racial bias was a
motive. "From what we've gotten, it hasn't even been mentioned," he said. 

Still, the slaying and the arrests of the boys, ages 15 to 17, have
provoked shock and outrage in New Jersey's third-largest city. Nearly 100
people visited the beating site Sunday for a candlelight ceremony. 

City leaders and residents have decried violence in the once-thriving
manufacturing community 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of New York.
Hispanics account for about half of the 149,000 residents, while blacks
make up about a third. 

"We have 72 different identifiable ethnic groups in this city," city
spokesman Bob Grant said. "For the most part, people get along pretty well." 

Blending so many different heritages can cause some tensions, he said.
There are "Albanians and Serbs in this city that don't get along here much
better than they get along in their homeland," he said. 

Just before the attack last Wednesday, police broke up a fight between
black and Hispanic youths near John F. Kennedy High School. A group of
black youths later swarmed a nearby intersection and came across Robles,
who had spent most of the past 15 years hanging out at the Electronic
Transformer Co., chatting and joking with workers who considered him family. 

"He was screaming, `Oh! Oh!' and moaning," said Nathaniel Washington, a
shipping clerk. "We all heard it, and ran out to his aid." 

Robles was dazed and bleeding. He was declared dead shortly afterward. 

The teen-agers were being held without bail pending court appearances
Tuesday. Attorneys from the public defender's office did not immediately
return calls Monday. 

Prosecutor William Purdy said the youths may face murder charges, but no
decision has been made on whether they will be tried as adults. 

"There was robbery involved, there was gang mentality involved," Purdy
said. "I don't know that there was any one motive involved in the case." 

June Russell, a plant employee who ran to Robles' aid and watched him go
into shock, disputed any suggestion it was robbery. 

"I was holding all his worldly possessions: his sunglasses and his
Walkman," she said. "If it was a robbery, they would have taken that from

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