Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Illinois, spoke on the House floor Thursday about the woman who was harassed for wearing a Puerto Rican flag shirt in Caldwell Woods last month.
Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery.
Earlier this week, I sent a bouquet of flowers and a great big Puerto Rican flag to Mia Irizarry, a young Puerto Rican women who lives in Chicago who celebrated her 24th birthday last month.
My wife and I wanted to let her know that we support her and we admire her.
You see, her birthday party at a park in Cook County, Illinois didn’t turn out the way she expected.
By now most of us have seen the video of that incident. A 62 year old man who police have identified as Timothy Tybus verbally abused and harassed Ms. Irizarry as she was wearing a shirt that depicts the flag of our U.S. colony of Puerto Rico.
What unfolds over the 30-minutes is a man physically and verbally intimidating a very polite and poised 24 year old American woman, while a uniformed police officer stands by and does nothing to intervene or help.
The officer has been identified as Patrick Conner of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Police Department, So an older racist yells at a young Latina because he doesn’t like what she and other Puerto Ricans living in “his” community he says represent.
Is that news? No.
And, while most police officers would have done the right thing in that incident, this guy was caught on tape doing the wrong thing, or more accurately, doing nothing, at all.
For me, this was very personal because something similar happened to me, something similar has happened to most Puerto Ricans, most Latinos, and most people of color, and most people who are somehow “different” in this country at one point or another in their lives.
22 years ago when I was a sophomore in Congress, I was entering one of the Capitol office buildings and my daughter Omaira and my niece Maritza. I was new and I was dressed somewhat casually because we were just returning from a Puerto Rican celebration and my daughter was carrying a Puerto Rican flag.
The flag became unfurled as it went through the X-ray machine and one of the officers wanted to stop us from coming in.
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I showed my official ID as a Member of Congress, to which the officer said, “I don’t think so,” indicating that she thought my ID was a fake and that I couldn’t possibly be a Member of Congress. She stated my ID was fake in fact.
There was also a comment at the end “Why don’t you and your people go back where you came from.”
22 years after that incident, we are still seeing the same kind of bigotry, the same kind of misunderstanding about Latinos and who Puerto Ricans are, and the same fear that we are outsiders who don’t belong here.
And sadly, the same fear and “otherness” is extended to other people, the handicapped, gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, immigrants, Muslims, people of color the list just goes on.
This is certainly not the first time, but right now we are in a moment of history when Americans are being told to fear other Americans and one of the reasons I think the video went viral is because it is emblematic of our times.
Bullies who do not understand the first thing about their fellow human beings, Latinos, people of color, immigrants or Muslims are being taught to fear that something they have is being taken away from them. And some now feel it is their right – their privilege – and maybe even their duty to go-off in public and take action.
I wonder where they get such an idea?
When our President calls Puerto Ricans lazy and expensive to help, it hurts our nation. When he calls Mexicans rapists and murderers or calls refugees fleeing violence with their children “illegal immigrants,” or calls transgender soldiers a threat to our country, and says that good people on both sides of a racist rally where a woman was killed are the same, it filters down.
Maybe the President is just reflecting back the fear, anger, and misunderstandings of the voters he wants to mobilize. But all of the lying, the hostility, and the racism is clearly taking a toll on our country.
I just hope that we all are as poised as Ms. Irizarry was if and when someone gets in our face; whether for wearing a pussy hat, or a hijab, a rainbow flag or a black lives matter t-shirt.
I hope we are all more willing than Officer Conner to take action when someone is trying to bully someone else, and I hope most Americans and I know most Americans are not like Mr. Tybus who is afflicted with both fear and ignorance and probably a substance abuse problem.
But the video makes clear that we all have to step up to defend the United States from this tide of bullying, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia, and stand up for what America is really all about. Please let’s just do this all together, if you see hate, stand up and speak.