Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Shenandoah": documentary of a hate crime by high school students against a Latino immigrant in Pennsylvania in 2008, and the huge aftermath

Shenandoah” (2012, by David Turnley) is an introspective documentary of a hate crime (and apparent police coverup) in Shenandoah, PA, an anthracite coal mining town in northeast Pennsylvania. 
On July 12, 2008, four white football players allegedly beat a Latino man to death in the street after a random encounter.  The victim, Luis Ramirez, was said to be illegal or undocumented. The four players, in this town of largely Polish descendants, were Brandon Piekarsky, 16, Derrick Donchak, 18, Colin Walsh, 17 and Brian Scully 17.  Piekarsky was acquitted of third-degree murder and Donchak of ethnic intimidation, but moth were convicted of misdemeanor assault. But a federal prosecutor went after Piekarsky and Donchak for hate crimes, and each received nine year federal sentences.  Members of the police department would also be incited.  A detailed account of the case is here.  Sam Dolnick has a followup story in the New York Times Aug. 10, 2012 here
The film starts with the high school football team a few years later trying to recover from the horror, starting over again as a losing team.  It almost reminds one of Penn State.
The crimes occurred in the context of adult battles over illegal immigration and even, at least indirectly, the Bush administration’s way of handling the war on terror.
The community faces its economic decline, even with the loss of a Lithuanian church.  The boys graduate from high school with caps and gowns, but two of them face prison.  The police officers are convicted of lying to the FBI and head to prison. But in a way, this sounds a bit like double jeopardy, But the Feds can prosecute for a different charge after a state acquittal.  It happened with Rodney King. 
The film has somewhat the presentation style of a Dateline or 2020 crime episode. 
The film can be viewed on Netflix instant play.
The film should not be confused with the 1965 musical by that name;  I saw the stage play of the musical in Dallas in 1979. 
Picture is mine, 2010, a town south of State College.  

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