World / Crime & Legal

Police believe Milwaukee acid attack outside Mexican restaurant was a hate crime

AP

Milwaukee police arrested a man suspected of throwing battery acid on another man in an attack that authorities believe was a hate crime.

Mahud Villalaz suffered second-degree burns to his face after he was confronted Friday by a man who confronted him about how he had parked his truck and accused him of being in the country illegally. Villalaz, 42, is a U.S. citizen who immigrated from Peru.

Police say the suspect is white. They have arrested a 61-year-old man. Charges were not expected until Tuesday.

Surveillance video shows the confrontation but does not include audio.

Villalaz told reporters that he was headed into a Mexican restaurant for dinner Friday when a man approached him and told him, “You cannot park here. You are doing something illegal.” Villalaz said the man also said, “Why did you come here and invade my country.”

He said he ignored the man and moved his truck to another block. But when he returned to the restaurant, the man was waiting for him with an open bottle, Villalaz said.

The man again accused him of being in the U.S. illegally, he said. At that point, Villalaz said he told the man that he was a citizen and that “everybody came from somewhere else here.”

That’s when he says the man tossed acid at him. Villalaz turned his head, and the liquid covered the left side of his face.

Villalaz was treated at a hospital and released. His family created a GoFundMe page to cover his medical expenses.

The attack comes amid a spike in hate crimes directed at immigrants that researchers and experts on extremism say is tied to mainstream political rhetoric.

A report issued last year by the Anti-Defamation League said extreme anti-immigrant views have become part of the political mainstream in recent years through sharp rhetoric by anti-immigration groups and politicians, including President Donald Trump. The president has repeatedly referred to migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border as an “invasion.”

Data collected by the FBI showed a 17 percent increase in hate crimes across the U.S. in 2017, the third annual increase in a row. Anti-Hispanic incidents increased 24 percent, from 344 in 2016 to 427 in 2017, according to the FBI data. Of crimes motivated by hatred over race, ethnicity or ancestry, nearly half involved African Americans while about 11 percent were classified as anti-Hispanic bias.

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino, released a study in July that found a 9 percent increase in hate crimes reported to police in major U.S. cities in 2018. Levin found a modest decrease in bias crimes against Hispanic or Latino people — from 103 in 2017 to 100 in 2018 — in 10 major cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. However, Levin has said the totals likely would have increased last year if not for a steep, unexplained drop in anti-Hispanic bias crimes reported for Phoenix, from 25 in 2017 to 10 in 2018.

Villalaz told reporters he now he feels unsafe.

“I feel scared that I cannot feel protected in my own country with my neighbors.”

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