The First (Official) Hate Crime Against Santeria?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 17, 2011 — 15 Comments

The Miami New Times reports this week that Santero Carlos Valdes is pushing to have a violent stalking case prosecuted as a hate crime, which, if successful, would make it the first official hate crime charge involving anti-Santeria sentiments.


Santero Carlos Valdes performing a ceremony at his home.

Prosecutors contend [Kellyd] Rodriguez has terrorized Valdes’s family for four years. It began with anti-Santería rants on the phone, Valdes says, and escalated into death threats, rock-throwing, drive-by shootings, and even heart-stopping phone calls to his young daughters’ schools. [...] The oriate is also pushing prosecutors to charge Rodriguez with the first hate crime connected to Santería. [...] ”I’ve had crucifixes thrown through my windows and a woman try to burn my church down,” says Ernesto Pichardo, the Hialeah santero who took the benchmark case [Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah] to Washington, D.C., in 1993. “So many people in Miami still don’t realize that a santero in his home has the exact same legal rights as a Catholic priest in his church or a Jewish rabbi in his synagogue.”

While this would be the first “official” case of a hate crime against Santeria being prosecuted, the circumstances are hardly unique. Anti-Santeria sentiments and  actions have been well-documented in the past, including harassment by local law enforcement and politicians.

“In 2006, for instance, three worshippers in West Dade were arrested during a sacrifice; charges were eventually dropped. Months later, a Miami-Dade firefighter was booked when a neighbor called 911 about a goat sacrifice. He too was exonerated. In January 2007, Valdes himself was detained during an animal sacrifice. That’s why he originally went on the radio — to talk about the need to better educate police about the religion. Seven month later, in August, Coral Gables Police swarmed a house on Casilla Street, disrupting a Santería service with their guns drawn. Worshippers were detained until officers realized no crime had been committed, but defiant Gables Mayor Don Slesnick vowed to stop all animal sacrifices in the City Beautiful and refused to apologize.”

I have extensively covered the harassment, demonization, and libel against Santeria and other syncretic Afro-Caribbean religions in the United States for some time. Any instance of dead animal parts being found, almost anywhere, results in a knee-jerk invocation of “Santeria,” despite the fact that these assertions are often debunked by various experts, including the ASPCA. It’s unsurprising that some of the old “occult experts” have added Santeria to their resumes when they now talk to police and local communities, these last few years there seems to have been an increasingly ugly dimension to some Santeria stories that point towards anti-immigration hostility, and have even led to what some have called racial profiling.

If anti-Santeria harassment and violence starts to fall under the rubric of religious “hate crimes” it could create a change in how adherents are treated by law enforcement and the media. Once Santeros and Santeras are seen as human beings, and not villainous caricatures, it changes the dynamic. They are no longer the “other,” but our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Modern Pagans today have been building increasing ties with syncretic African traditions like Santeria and Vodou, with many seeking initiations and training. They are part of our extended family, and we should be concerned with how our “cousins” are being treated. The demonization and harassment of Santeria is but a hair’s breadth from the treatment modern Pagans have received in the past, and in some instances, still receive. Even if Carlos Valdes isn’t successful in his quest to have this case prosecuted as a hate crime, it should still be seen a call towards a new activist spirit regarding how minority religions are treated and portrayed.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Dave

    The best line in the full article is the stalkers attorney “Arturo Hernandez, Rodriguez’s lawyer, says Valdes is wrong. “That’s preposterous that anyone would try to connect this case to his beliefs,” he says.”
    If this has nothing to do with beliefs and religion, then why was he focused on Santaria.

    • Lori F – MN

      And if it had nothing to do with his religion, why was a cross thrown into his window?
      The article didn’t say what the caller to the school said. PRobably something like ‘so and so’s in danger. Her father kills animals.”
      Wonder Rodriguez called child protection services?

      • BlackCat

        The cross had to do with a separate case of hate against Santeria. (However, Rodriguez did tell Valdes that if he didn’t stop practicing Santeria he and his family “would die.”)

        The article said the caller told the schools that Valdes and his wife had died in a car crash. One of the two daughters was told this before it was discovered that it was false.

  • http://dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    I know there have been attempts before, but I would love to see an organization of occult experts who are actual occultists that work as a volunteer body to assist the police. It might do something to stave off investigations based on knee-jerk superstition.

    • Ursyl

      That would make too much sense.

      • http://pagan-culture.blogspot.com/ Magaly Guerrero

        Indeed.

    • http://pagan-culture.blogspot.com/ Magaly Guerrero

      I’ve noticed that certain organizations only like experts who say what they are expecting to hear; even if the truth makes more sense.

  • Ursyl

    Sure looks to me like a hate crime. I hope the police can make the links to prove it.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Word.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-Fike-II/100000052959940 Martin Fike II

      try
      the links attached to the crosses that were thrown.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Of course then it depends on how the jury feels.

  • Lori F – MN

    I would have thought Miami would know better. I thought Santaria was widely practiced in Miami. Must have been a different Miami
    I hope it is procuted as a Hate Crime. It certainly seems like one. From the article it sounds like all they can get Rodriguez for is the calls and possibly stalking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.J.Crandall John Joseph Crandall

    It is clearly a hate crime and as someone who is initiated in an orisa faith and formerly a pagan witch of 10 years, I can tell you that we face much worse discrimination – especially in the workplace. Our initiation requires a up to a year of strict taboos including not being able to touch other people, having to wear white, etc. When people see us in our beads and dressed all in white with heads wrapped, we receive a kind of biased verbal harassment that most witches will never know except on Halloween.

    May Ochosi stand with this man and help him obtain justice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.J.Crandall John Joseph Crandall

    http://www.local10.com/news/28894271/detail.html

    And the Orisa always bring justice. Note that the stalker and criminal in this situation was just arrested for mortgage fraud as well.

    Ochosi a gbe wa!!!!

  • Voldy

    hmmm i didn’t realize we were still in the dark ages. unflippinbelievable. and to think Baba’s daughter had to go through something like that. shame on you