‘Don’t take the bullying:’ Racist remarks take a toll on Puerto Rican business owner in CT
A couple appeared in court Friday morning regarding charges of disorderly conduct that stem from an incident captured on social media.
The video shows the couple using racist language against a landscaper in Middletown last month.
Jose Martin, the owner of J Martin Landscaping, said he was finishing his work on Frisbee Street when Robert Shaw and Sharon Bourgeois-Williams approached him and his brother. Martin, who is Puerto Rican, recorded the incident on his smartphone, which went viral in Puerto Rico and internationally.
The video showed the couple yelling slurs and insults like “No speaky engee! You don’t even have a visa! Are you here legally?”
"It made me feel bad because I don't think anybody can disrespect anybody the way they did to us. And then they didn't even know that we were Americans, too,” Martin said. “So I don't even know why people still do those kinds of situations like discrimination. I'm Puerto Rican. It can happen to me. Nobody's supposed to do stuff like that."
Martin said the incident has affected him and his family emotionally. He said he has also received threatening messages, causing him to fear for his and his family's safety.
"For the first two weeks, I was without work, worrying and scared a little bit that these people were gonna take revenge on me or my family,” he said. “I stopped working, and then I put cameras on my house and everywhere."
An American Psychological Association study says discrimination-related stress can lead to severe mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
When questioned about the matter, Sharon chose not to provide a statement. Bourgeois-Williams declined to comment on the matter. She earlier told WTNH-TV that she and her partner, Robert Shaw, “made a mistake.” Bourgeois-Williams and Shaw face charges of disorderly conduct.
The Middletown Police report indicated that Shaw appeared to be intoxicated, but Martin said that wasn’t the case.
On Friday, Martin was joined at the courthouse by his legal counsel, Amado J. Vargas, who expressed his determination to pursue justice for Martin through all available channels at both the federal and state levels
“So it's clearly discrimination. People that look like Mr. Martin, this is something we have to deal with on a daily basis,” Vargas said. “One of the options we're going to pursue is a potential personal injury case against the two defendants' civil rights violations. What happened to him should not happen to anybody.”
Martin confirmed he feels his civil rights have been violated by the racist incident. The Civil Rights Act is federal legislation that helps prevent discrimination against individuals based on their race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
“At some point the prosecutors may bring up a hate crime,” Vargas said.
Community activists were present to support Martin and against the recent rise in incidents across Connecticut involving racism, antisemitism and discrimination, from racist flyers in Stamford to various incidents in Bristol. Following the Israel-Hamas War, the Anti-Defamation League has reported a significant increase in reported hate incidents in Connecticut in recent weeks compared to the same time period last year.
Amy Lappos, leader of the Middletown Anti-Racism organization, emphasized the belief that no race is superior to another.
“We've seen several hate crimes in Middletown over the last several months including literature drops, people smearing and vandalizing cars, and stuff like that,” Lappos said. “And we take this very seriously. We take the welfare of people like Jose [Martin] and Leo very seriously and their right to live here in America and not be harassed.”
Martin has expressed gratitude for support from the community and various activist groups while his case goes through the courts.
"Don't let nobody treat you differently because we are human beings,” he said.
He shared a message to other people who may face discrimination because of their background.
“We are here for a reason, and no matter what country you are from, don't let anybody treat you that way,” Martin said. “Don't take the bullying."
The next court date has been scheduled for January 16, 2024.
This story has been updated with details of the court hearing on Friday, November 17.