Easy Prey 

Domingo Lopez Vargas was an early casualty in the brutal Battle of 'Georgiafornia'

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On the heels of a King "Zamarripa Watch" story about the driver's license issue, the senator received an e-mail that particularly disturbed him. "My hope is that when the next terrorist act takes place in the United States ... your children will be the recipients of that terror. Yes, your children. I want you to suffer."

"These messages are directly correlated to the attention I get from American Resistance," says Zamarripa. "I think these people are operating just barely north of vigilante. They might not be traditional 'hate' groups like the Klan, but that's part of the appeal. They provide a safe, so-called respectable haven for hatred and bigotry."

Bigotry tends to bubble up in surprising settings — like city council chambers. In September, a verbal melee broke out at what was supposed to be a routine city council meeting in Doraville.Once an overwhelmingly white suburb of 10,000, Doraville is now 43 percent Hispanic officially - and perhaps 60 percent unofficially.

Doraville had decided to charge sponsors of an Oct. 12 Festival de la Raza (raza means "race") march $2,000 for police security - an unprecedented fee with no basis in local law.

When members of the march's sponsoring group, the Coordinating Council of Latino Community Leaders of Atlanta, decided to attend the Sept. 20 council meeting to protest, state Sen. Vincent Fort of Atlanta went with them.

Fort, a history professor at Morris Brown College who represents a predominantly African-American district in the city, believed that charging for security was a violation of free speech.

A civil rights activist and a student of civil rights history, Fort was the first to speak. But Councilman Lamar Lang interrupted to question Fort's right to address the council.

"Being a senator doesn't cut any ice with me," Lang said. "I'm going to call a spade a spade."

After a heated exchange, Fort resumed reading his statement in support of the marchers. And then Lang declared: "Latinos are freeloaders. The city doesn't have to pay for charges incurred by the undocumented."

A couple of weeks later, Lang issued an apology of sorts, saying, "Maybe I shouldn't have made that statement." After some negotiations with the Doraville police chief, the Festival de la Raza went off without a hitch. Of course, King and a band of American Resistance members were part of the crowd.

Fort was struck by the parallels between the backlash against black civil rights and the current anti-immigration movement.

"Ultimately, Lang was saying what many people in Doraville - and this whole area - believe. As their numbers increase, you're going to see more and more resentment against Latinos in Georgia, not less.

"And especially as they start to assert themselves and defend their rights, it won't be pleasant. We know that from the Civil Rights Movement.

"Take the hate crimes in Canton. People usually don't report those kinds of incidents, because many of them are undocumented and fear the police. If one or two are reported, you know there are a lot more of those crimes happening. And we won't see an end of them any time soon."

While Georgia's immigration debate heats to a boiling point, Domingo Lopez Vargas waits for justice — and a ticket home. Having sworn off day labor, he works night shifts now, cutting up chickens at the nearby Tyson plant, wincing through the pain that shoots up his right arm when he lowers the boom on a bird.But it's only temporary, he says. "I called my wife and told her what happened. She told me to move back to Guatemala. I wanted to, but I didn't have enough money to go back and the police officers told me not to go out of the country because they will still need me to work on the case. After the case is finished, I want to go back to my family."

It could take a while. Cherokee County's district attorney and both its Superior Court judges removed themselves from the case, citing their ties to defendant Ben Cagle's prominent family. The prosecution was shifted to Cobb County.

Until Oct. 25, when Georgia's hate-crime law was declared unconstitutional, activists were pressing Cobb prosecutors to bring hate crime charges against Lopez' assailants - and those of Carlos Perez and Elias Tiu.

"These victims were chosen, clearly, because they were Latino day laborers," says the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Tisha Tillman. "And if you're going to say that robbery was the motive, why were these men beaten with fists and sticks and pipes?"

Every weekday morning, scores of laborers still gather and wait for work in Canton. Antonio (who doesn't want to give his last name) believes things have gotten a little better since he arrived four years ago.

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