I was contacted over the weekend by a colleague in the United States who pointed out to me the similarities in the nature of the crimes I described in my post Lawrence and King: a study in institutionalised racism and the response by the white dominated Australian Federal Police to the complaint that was contemporaneously made about that incident by Ms. King and an incident that occurred in Nevada on May 24, 2011.
The Nevada incident involved a Native family from the Reno Sparks Indian Colony who were going about their own business when they became the unwanted victims of a white hate crime. Johnny and Lisa Bonta along with other members of their family were attacked at a petrol station along I-80 in Fernley, Nevada, a border town between the Fallon and Pyramid Lake Indian reservations.
Mr. Bonta described the unprovoked attack on him and his family by a group of skinheads in the following words:
“I was pumping gas at Quick Stop on our way to Reno to look for another job when these skinheads in a blue car drove by real slow and checked us out. The driver jumped out with a baseball bat, and I asked them ‘why you holding a bat?’ He said ‘let’s do this’ and tried to pick a fight. I don’t know how to explain what happened—we didn’t do anything to them.”
By his own account, Bonta, a Paiute member of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, tried to avoid the confrontation by telling them he didn’t want to fight. He got back in the car, with his son-in-law Shane Murray at the wheel, and the family hurriedly left the scene with their attackers in close pursuit.
Eventually Mr. Bonta and his family were forced to stop when a blue car, carrying their attackers, swerved in front of them and slammed on its brakes, causing Mr. Murray to crash into it. Mr. Murray is reported as saying that he recognized one of the attackers as Jacob Cassell, a former classmate and son of retired Lyon County Sheriff officer Jim Cassell.
Mrs. Bonta in a contemporaneous statement she made to the Washoe Medical Center, where she was in treatment for seizures she suffers, stated that:
“They [her family’s attackers] all jumped out of the car with baseball bats, knives and a crowbar, and we knew they were going to hurt us,”
I saw one of them hit my husband in the head with a bat, and the other one was trying to cut off his braid with a knife. Johnny was covered in blood and they just kept hitting him with a crow bar. They even tried to slit his throat
Jacob Cassell had my son-in-law on the ground in a chokehold and Shane was turning blue. My daughter was sobbing ‘they’re killing him’ and somehow she found the strength to hit Jacob in self-defense so he would release Shane.”
Mrs. Bonta went on to say, that Cassell turned his anger on her and her daughter, jumping on the hood of their car while swinging a baseball bat and cursing at them.
“I’m a 46 year-old woman with serious health problems, and I tried to defend myself, but he hit me across the lower back with his bat, calling us ‘niggers and river monsters. He pointed at Alyssa and said he would rape her the next time he saw her in Fernley, where she lives.”
Meanwhile, Johnny Bonta was knocked unconscious with a bat, his nose and sinus cavities broken and bleeding, with stab wounds on his neck.
Lisa said Jacob Cassell taunted the family as the sirens approached, telling them:
“You hear those cops coming? They’re not going to help you. My daddy is a cop in this town, and nothing is going to happen to me. You fucking niggers are going to jail.”
Mr. Cassell’s words are eerily similar to the words spoken by Ms. Master’s assailant during his racially motivated indecent assault on her:
“My assailant then looked me straight in the face as he ripped the front of my dress exposing my bra while bragging that my companion […] couldn’t do anything to stop him because he “is friends with Ted Quinlan the Treasurer and Police Minister […].”
Another similarity between the King and Bonta cases is that when Lyon County Sheriff’s officers arrived, they took statements from Cassell and his friends, but did not take any statements from any of the victims. When Lisa asked why they were not being questioned for a statement, no one responded. “They ignored us,” she said, before she suffered a seizure and required medical attention.
Mrs. Bonta, her daughter Alyssa and son-in-law Murray required immediate medical treatment and were taken from the scene in ambulances. Mr. Murray’s injuries included a crushed elbow and broken hand.
Mr. Bonta, bleeding and barely standing after being hit in the knees with a bat, was arrested on the scene and taken to jail. He said he was not allowed medical treatment for six days while he was in the county jail, all the while uncertain about what charges had been filed against him.
Assuming he was on his way to the hospital, Lisa Bonta had no idea her husband had been arrested. She finally located her husband in jail after calling other facilities repeatedly, and was very upset that he was not given medical treatment for his extensive injuries.
“I asked them to tell me what charges he was being held on and no one would say. They said they gave him the information, but he can’t read or write, so I needed to find out. At first they said there was a bench warrant for an unpaid $367 fine, and when we made arrangements to pay that, they charged him with battery with a deadly weapon, even though it was those boys who had the weapons. The booking papers say we owe $30,367.00. ”
Not only were the Bonta’s attackers released at the scene and not charged, they even had the gall to brag about their racially motivated hate crime against the Bonta’s on Facebook on May 24, the day of the attack.
Two hours after attacking the Bonta’s, Josh Janiszewski of Fernley wrote at 3:13pm:
“Just laid the fists and boots to some 6? 5” tongan dude. what you got on little guys?”
When asked if they gave them hell, Josh responded at 3:48 p.m. with:
“Oh we did. That’s for sure!”
To which Jacob Cassell responded at 4:07 p.m. with:
Jacob’s mother Dee Cassell also commented at 4:48 p.m:
“So…who has blood? You guys need to come home to mom?”
She later added at8:00 p.m. that she gave them First Aid:
“Better have ur asses at home after I did 1st aid. Don’t piss off women – they r worse than men!”
When asked if they got “some good licks” in, Josh said, “sent em to the hospital, they got fucked up man, thats for sure.”
While members of the Carroll family were engaged in this illuminating exchange on Facebook, Mr. Bonta, one of the actual victims of Jacob Carroll’s hate crime was locked behind denied medical treatment for his injuries by the white police!
It was not until tribal police pursued Johnny’s release that he was finally released after six days and was able to see a doctor.
The family also lost their car following the attack. The Bonta’s could not locate their car after the Lyon County Sheriff’s office had it towed from the scene. When Lisa called to ask about their car, she was told the police had no information. She found the car two weeks later in a small towing yard, tires flattened and in need of repair. Since Johnny has not been able to work, they cannot afford to pay the impoundment fees or have it repaired. They are now walking to all of their medical appointments in Reno. The situation has created great hardship for them and their children.
“We lost everything as a result of this attack, and now we’re homeless since we can’t go back to Fernley,” said Lisa. “The FBI took our statement last week and we know they got a copy of the video from the gas station parking lot. We are asking for a full investigation into this hate crime.”
Mrs. Bonta said since this happened, at least four other Native families have told her they too were harassed and attacked by skinheads in nearby border towns. But people told her they don’t report the incidents because they don’t believe police will help them. These follow an April 2010 attack on Vincent Kee, Navajo, in Farmington, New Mexico, where three men took Kee from a McDonald’s and shaved a swastika symbol on the back of his head and branded him with the symbol using a coat hanger.
Mrs. Bonta has recently released the following statement:
“Someone could have died that day, and the only reason this happened is because my husband and son-in-law have brown skin. We have a 10-year-old daughter, and I have to speak out about what happened for her sake. I just don’t understand why these young boys think they have the right to randomly beat others. We have to put a stop to this kind of behavior.”
Mrs. Bonta also said they are hiring an attorney. “I want the police to know they can’t deny people medical treatment just because they feel like it. Johnny could have died from a head injury, and they violated his civil rights. They should be held accountable.”
While what happened to the Bonta’s physically and perhaps psychologically is far worse that what happened to Ms Master’s, the underlying nature of the crimes are the same. Indigenous people who become the unwanted victims of white hate crimes in their own countries remain, on a global level, outside of white ‘just-us’ solely because of the colour of their skin or their identification as indigenous. Like Mrs Bonta, all of us who have victims of white hate crimes in Australia demand accountability from the ‘just-us’ system and an end to entrenched white racism!