Mahud Villalaz, a 42-year-old welder from Milwaukee, was just trying to go to a restaurant on Friday night when a white male, age 61, approached him on a street corner.
The man told Villalaz that he had parked illegally, but his comments soon took a different direction entirely, questioning Villalaz’s citizenship status altogether.
“Why did you come here and invade my country?” the man said to Villalaz, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The older man called Villalaz an “illegal,” and told him to “get out of this country, Villalaz recounted later. That’s when the man threw a substance into Villalaz’s face — acid, which gave him second-degree burns, CNN reported.
Milwaukee Alderman Jose Perez said the incident is being looked into as possibly being a hate crime. Villalaz is indeed an American citizen. He came to the U.S. more than 19 years ago from his home in Peru.
#BREAKING – Video shows the moment a man was hit with battery acid. Police arrested the culprit & call it a hate crime because the victim, who is Latino, says before he was hit by the white male suspect he called him “illegal” STORY: https://t.co/WAiX44Sx9d pic.twitter.com/pb2agxS6Go
— Chernéy Amhara (@CherneyAmharaTV) November 3, 2019
Darryl Morin, president of the non-profit organization Forward Latino, said that Villalaz had difficulty explaining the incident to his children. “They weren’t able to understand how somebody could do this to a person without knowing them,” Morin said.
A GoFundMe page for Villalaz, to help with his recovery, has already raised almost $18,000 as of press time. Its initial goal was $15,000.
Hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years. Some experts believe that the rise of President Donald Trump, and his hateful rhetoric directed toward minority populations, has played a role in the increase in attacks on non-white Americans.
Hateful words from leaders tend to result in violence from others who follow them closely.
“We see a correlation around the time of statements of political leaders and fluctuations in hate crimes,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, according to US News & World Report. “Could there be other intervening causes? Yes. But it’s certainly a significant correlation that can’t be ignored.”