[Hpn] AP coverage of NJ homeless murder

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 26 Jun 2001 09:39:03 -0700


http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010625/us/homeless_beating_death_2.html

Monday June 25 4:42 PM ET

Homeless Man Killing Stirs Concern

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press Writer

PATERSON, N.J. (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 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.''

Melding 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 last 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.

High school spokeswoman Jacqueline Jones said it was uncertain whether the
fight was connected to Robles' death. She said administrators do not believe
racial tensions in Paterson are particularly high but have started conflict
resolution and peer counseling programs to help prevent violence.

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
him.''

Robles did odd jobs for workers at the plant, getting them cups of coffee or
brushing snow off their windshields for small change or a few dollars.

Workers grew so fond of him that if he hadn't appeared at the loading dock
by midmorning, they would look for him to make sure he was all right.
Sometimes, he would hide behind a car, smiling mischievously because he knew
they would come looking.

``It's a horrible, disgusting story,'' said Cliff Markowitz, the plant's
general manager. ``He was a harmless guy, never bothered anybody.''


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