A woman said she and her 15-year-old daughter were attacked for speaking Spanish in East Boston earlier this month by two white women who shouted “this is America” and told them to “speak English” and “go back to your [expletive] country.”
At a news conference, the woman said she and her daughter were walking home from dinner the night of Feb. 15 when they were attacked by the two women in Maverick Square.
“We were punched, bitten,” the woman said through a Spanish interpreter. “My daughter was punched in the head.”
She teared up as she told reporters that her daughter remains frightened and hasn’t been able to sleep well since the attack. Her daughter was not present.
“My family and I are afraid,” the woman said. But “we refuse to live in fear. We refuse to stay silent, as we were attacked based on our race, our language, and our identity,” she said.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston nonprofit group, identified the mother only as Ms. Vasquez and didn’t name her daughter. The mother declined to provide her first name to reporters.
The group released video footage of the incident that was recorded by a nearby business. It shows a woman who appears to be shouting as she crosses the street and punches Vasquez. Vasquez punches back, and a fight involving several people ensues. Boston police arrive and are speaking with both groups when the video ends.
According to the lawyers’ group, which is providing legal support for the Vasquezes, police “did not follow-up or formally interview the Vasquez family until legal counsel intervened.”
Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman, said the incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime by the civil rights unit.
“No arrests have been made, but it is a very active investigation,” Boyle said.
According to a police report, officers arrived at Maverick Square at 8:45 p.m. and spoke with Vasquez and her daughter, two other women involved in the altercation, and two witnesses. Police described the alleged attackers as white women who “admitted that they had been drinking and acting belligerent.”
The women, whose names were redacted in the report, acknowledged getting into a scuffle with Vasquez and her daughter, but said they were the victims. They said they heard Vasquez and her daughter laughing and speaking Spanish and believed the pair were “making fun of them.”
The women told police they “engaged in a verbal argument,” then one of the Vasquezes punched one of them in the face. One of the women said she “defended herself by fighting back,” according to the report.
One of those women had “multiple small scratches on her face and a small amount of blood around her fingernails,” the report states.
The Vasquezes told police they were attacked without provocation by the women while speaking in Spanish and believed the women thought they were making fun of them. One of the Vasquezes had a large scratch on her cheek and a laceration on her right thumb from being bitten during the struggle, according to the report.
Two witnesses told police the women attacked the Vasquezes and one described being punched in the face three times while trying to separate the two pairs of women. All of the women and witnesses declined medical treatment, according to police.
But Vasquez said she and her daughter went to a neighborhood health center for treatment and her daughter is still receiving treatment.
Vasquez said that while the attack was the first time she was targeted during the five years she has lived in the neighborhood, “bigots and racists” have attacked other people.
“Victims and witnesses are afraid to speak up,” Vasquez said. “That ends now.”
Vasquez said she wants police to look into cases involving other people who have been “terrorized like us.”
Janelle Dempsey, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the attack “is part of a troubling pattern.” The group called for a thorough investigation of the case and a review of the Police Department’s process for identifying hate crimes.
“We expect charges to be [brought] against these attackers,” Dempsey said. "This needs to be treated as a hate crime.”
Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, an advocacy group, said “people of color and immigrants cannot feel safe when police officers fail to act.”
“We are not second-class citizens,” she said in a statement. “We deserve protection and respect. In a neighborhood such as East Boston, which has seen a spike in hate incidents, immediate and meaningful investigations of hate crimes are critical to deter further threats and violence.”
Montes said her group has seen “a lot of cases” similar to Vasquez’s and that many victims are scared to report the incidents because they are undocumented immigrants.
In addition to the allegations brought by the Vasquezes, the police’s civil rights unit is investigating one other incident in East Boston this year, Boyle said. The unit investigated 14 incidents in East Boston in 2019, up from five in 2018, he said. Those figures are part of an increase throughout Boston, which saw the number of alleged civil rights violations rise from 152 in 2018 to 191 last year.
Boyle said the police have urged people to report hate crimes and has let immigrants know about the Trust Act, which prohibits Boston police from getting involved in deportation matters.
“We would strongly urge people if they are victims of crime to report them to police so we can investigate,” Boyle said. “We are not going to ask victims if they are citizens or undocumented. A victim is a victim.”
Of the 14 civil rights violation cases investigated in East Boston last year, police identified 12 suspects, Boyle said. Four suspects were arrested; four were not charged because victims refused to go forward with the cases; four were determined not to have committed a crime; and two cases remain unsolved.