By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The two high school seniors assaulted at the Waffle House in Bowling Green last month are struggling to get their lives back to normal.
“His nose is broken, he’s having trouble breathing regularly,” Justin Hartford said of his friend Zarrick Ramirez, 18, of Findlay. “He’s still in a lot of pain.”
Hartford has bruised ribs and pain in his chest from inflammation after the attack.
But worse than the physical pain is the memory of the attack that Hartford just can’t shake.
“I have nightmares about it,” Hartford, 18, of Mount Cory, said on Friday. “I have really bad anxiety about going into restaurants. The other day my mom asked if I wanted to go out to eat,” but he just couldn’t do it.
“It’s scary. Everywhere I go, I have to watch my back,” Hartford said.
It was nearly two weeks ago that Ramirez and Hartford walked into the Waffle House in Bowling Green around 3 a.m., and according to police reports, were met with ethnic slurs from two other customers. One of the men reportedly told the teens that President Donald Trump would deal with immigrants like them.
Before leaving the restaurant, the men taunting the teens reportedly went over to their table and began beating them.
Three employees and a customer told police the two victims did nothing to provoke the attack.
Bowling Green Police Division arrested Jacob Dick, 22, North Baltimore, and Zachary Keller, 21, of Custar, for felonious assault and ethnic intimidation.
The two men arrested for the racist attack may be the first to be charged with “ethnic intimidation” by the Bowling Green Police Division.
“This is the first time I know of that we’ve used it,” Lt. Dan Mancuso said earlier this week of the law put into place in 1987. It’s not against the law to make racist comments to another person – however, making those comments while committing another crime like aggravated assault means the offense then rises to the next higher degree.
“Ethnic intimidation is the only section I’m aware of in the Ohio Revised Code that deals with it directly,” Mancuso said.
This is not the first racist incident involving Dick. Last December, Dick resigned from his job with the Hancock County Engineer after a video surfaced showing Dick and another employee with a blackface doll hanging from a noose. An unidentified male voice reportedly is heard on the video uttering a racial slur in the Twitter footage.
During a community meeting after the racists attack at Waffle House, more than 50 people gathered to discuss how future such attacks could be prevented. Some of the suggestions included training people to intervene and not stand by when such acts occur.
While training is always helpful, Mancuso cautioned that bystanders or business employees should be careful.
“It’s a touchy situation,” Mancuso said, expressing concern that more people may end up hurt if they challenge a violent person.
The best action to take is to call 911, and be a good witness, he said.
“Call the police immediately,” Mancuso said. “If you see people arguing, it’s OK to call the police. We would prefer to stop it before someone gets injured.”
Also during the community meeting, local residents pushed for elected officials to act. Beatriz Maya, director of La Conexion, pleaded for city leaders to take a strong stand to prevent further hate crimes.
“I’m expecting them to react urgently,” Maya said. “I’m tired of these conversations, then everybody goes home and nothing is done.”
Both La Conexion and Not In Our Town are non-profit, volunteer organizations with shoestring budgets.
“I’m asking for help, we can’t do this alone,” Maya said to city officials. “Sometimes you get frustrated, but the only thing you can do is keep trying.”
Members of La Conexion and others plan to attend the next City Council meeting on Monday at 7 p.m., to ask for the city’s help in preventing such racist attacks in the future. The community is being asked to stand in solidarity as La Conexion presents proposals to City Council.
This presentation will include:
– Calling for an ordinance which mandates businesses and other institutions in the city to adopt zero tolerance policies and training to all employees on how to respond to these incidents in order to protect public safety and limit potential business liability.
– Calling upon city officials to denounce individual incidents of hate speech and also acknowledge the systemic issues of hate which exist within our community.
– Promoting educational opportunities such as bystander training, as well as suggestions for partnering with local schools, businesses, and organizations in order to build stronger alliances against hate and prejudice.
Members of the community are also invited to join La Conexion on Sunday evening at 7 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, when the organization will be continuing the conversation on addressing hate and racism.