Police are investigating a possible hate crime after the mayor of Burien, Washington, said a man assaulted him because of his policies supporting Latino immigrants.
“I was physically assaulted, and verbally threatened by a male who was upset because Burien is a Sanctuary City, and I am a Latino male Mayor,” Mayor Jimmy Matta wrote in a Facebook post.
Matta, Burien’s first Latino mayor, told police that a man in his 60s put his arm around Matta’s neck, pulled him down, and scratched his arm on a fence Saturday night, according to a press release from the City of Burien. He was at a beer garden for the annual Olde Burien Block Party at the time.
“We’re not going to let you Latino illegals take over our city,” Matta told the Seattle Times the man whispered into his ear. The man also said, “You think you’re a celebrity here; you ain’t,” Matta added during a press conference Monday.
The suspect, however, left before police arrived. Detectives are still attempting to identify the suspect, but Matta told VICE News that the police have a lead.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” Burien Police Chief Ted Boe told VICE News in a statement. “People have the right to express their opinions and views. However, they do not have the right to assault or threaten people, nor damage property in the course of that expression.”
Matta is a vocal supporter of Burien’s current sanctuary city status, jurisdictions where local police agree not to hold undocumented immigrants — unless they commit a serious crime — until federal immigration agents can take custody and likely pursue deportation. The decision was made before Matta took office and remains in place despite ongoing controversy on the issue.
“My values and my convictions about keeping the community safe,” Matta told VICE News Tuesday. “I would take a bullet for it. We can’t terrorize our people. I was victimized by this individual. I’m a citizen, but I still keep a fear in my life. Local police departments should not be going after illegal immigrants. They should be going after criminals.”
“We got some work to do,” Matta added. “We need to make sure we’re never frightened to engage politically.”
Cover image: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at ICE's in Broadview, Ill. facility on March 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)