Updated Wednesday at 2:29 p.m. CT
Milwaukee prosecutors on Wednesday charged a 61-year-old white man with a hate crime for allegedly throwing battery acid on a local Hispanic man.
The decision from prosecutors means Clifton Blackwell could face an enhanced sentence if convicted of the charge of first-degree reckless injury. Prosecutors added the sentencing enhancers of hate crime and use of a dangerous weapon.
Mahud Villalaz was heading to a Mexican restaurant on Milwaukee's near south side Friday night. That’s when, he says, a bystander started berating him about how he parked his car.
Villalaz is a U.S. citizen of Peruvian descent. He says the man asked, "Why did you come here and invade my country?" and accused him of being here illegally. The man then threw suspected battery acid on Villalaz' face, resulting in second-degree burns and partial damage to his left eye.
For his part, Villalaz already seems to believe forgiveness is the way forward.
"God bless the guy who did this to me," he says. "He has his own problems. I just wanted to move on and choose love, and take care of what’s really important: family, my kids."
— Chernéy Amhara (@CherneyAmharaTV) November 4, 2019
Stephanie Rivera heard about the incident on the news. She lives just down the block from the restaurant.
"I was saddened for the victim," she says. "And angry about the whole situation."
Going forward, Rivera suggests, "More investigation on the matter, and just be kind to one another."
Others in the community, including a man named Hector, note that battery acid was an extreme attack —and concerning.
"That's uncommon," he says. "I mean who's, like, carrying acid around with them? Like who does that?"
Blackwell's family said he's a military veteran. His mother said he had struggled with post-traumatic stress, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Blackwell's brother, 63-year-old Arthur Blackwell of Evergreen, Colo., told The Associated Press on Monday that Blackwell "was not a confrontational person." He says his brother served nearly four years in the U.S. Marines.
One south side resident, Richard Ruppel, says he needs to know more before passing judgment. He says mental illness can drive people to do things that are "not right."
"I cannot make up my mind entirely based on what I've heard in the news," he says. "This has to run through the channels and be investigated. On the surface, it's a pretty ugly crime."
But many people I spoke to do think that it was a hate crime, including Jesus Serrano. He's lived in the neighborhood for 60 years.
"Oh, it probably is," he says. "The way things — we're going backwards now, instead of forward.”
When asked why that is, Serrano says, "I think the way the president's running the country, that's what's happening. There's too much — he's got too much trouble, and it doesn't stop. It just gets more and more and more. And how is he going to fix all this? He's not," Serrano says.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett shares that view. Trump is inciting hatred against minorities, including Hispanics and immigrants, he said at a news conference.
The Associated Press reports the White House has weighed in. Spokesman Judd Deere says the Trump administration has "repeatedly condemned racism, bigotry and violence."
In a statement, Deere says that only person responsible for this heinous act is the person who committed it, and the mayor needs to take responsibility for confronting the violence in his own community.