Milwaukee police have arrested a suspect who allegedly threw acid at a US citizen after telling him to “go back to [his] country”.
Mahud Villalaz suffered second-degree burns to his face after a man threw acid from a container in front of a restaurant on Friday night, in a predominantly Latino part of Milwaukee.
Surveillance video showed a hooded man pointing at Villalaz, who was raised in Peru, before throwing the liquid. Villalaz stumbled away from the man, who police said is white.
Speaking outside the hospital where he was treated, Villalaz told local news channel WISN 12 the incident began as a parking dispute and escalated when the other man accused him of being “illegal” and asked him why he had “invaded” the US. The man then tossed the acid.
“The feeling was burning, and I was trying to defend myself but I couldn’t because I couldn’t open my eyes,” Villalaz said.
The president of local advocacy group Forward Latino, Darryl Morin, told the Milwaukee Independent police were investigating the attack as a hate crime.
“I don’t see how it could be anything else, as this is sadly and tragically a textbook case of hate,” Morin said. “I dare say it was premeditated, because no one walks around with a bottle of acid and hangs out in a predominantly Latino neighborhood for no reason.”
More than $16,000 had been raised to help support Villalaz and his family as of Monday morning. In a post on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, his sister said Villalaz would be unable to do his job as a welder until his burns healed and that he will need follow-up care for damage to his eyesight.
“We see acts of hate like this happening everywhere,” his sister, Priscilla Villalaz, wrote. “The only thing we can ask ourselves is why do they hate us so much?”
In late 2018, the FBI released data which showed hate crimes in the US rose by 17% in 2017, the third straight annual increase. Many incidents go unreported and not all regions supply hate crime data to the federal agency.
Some experts have said there is a link between political rhetoric and hate crimes. The comments Villalaz said his attacker made paralleled rhetoric from Donald Trump, who regularly disparages immigrants and downplays the destructive impact of white nationalism.
In July, the president was widely condemned after telling a group of four congresswomen, all US citizens, to “go back” to the countries they came from. Three were born in the US.
Since May 2018, Trump’s re-election campaign has run 2,200 ads which mention the word “invasion” while referring to immigrants at the southern border, according to the Associated Press.
Milwaukee alderman Jose Perez also said the incident was being investigated as a hate crime, and urged people in the city and the US to be more respectful to each other.
“We need those elected officials who are spreading racial hatred to knock off the rhetoric that is designed to divide us,” Perez said in a statement. “Instead, we need to work to heal the wounds that have been gashed open in the last few years. We as a country are better than this.”