When a car full of young men pulled up to Ali Kamara near his Staten Island home shortly after Barack Obama’s historic election victory, the teen didn’t run – he said he thought he was about to be stopped by cops.
Moments later, the 17-year-old high school student said he found himself instinctively covering his face as he had been taught in boxing class while his attackers pounded him with pipes and a baton, and yelled, “Obama!”
As he recovers from his injuries, Kamara, a Black Muslim, described the racially charged beating – and vowed he isn’t going to let the suspected hate attack shake him from his goal of becoming a pediatrician.
“I try to wake up early in the morning, go to school, make the best out of it, like, just to learn so that I can make my mom happy,” said the Curtis High School student, who has been taking extra classes to make up the time lost to his injuries.
“That can’t stop me from doing anything,” said Kamara, who suffered a head wound and was left with a limp by the early Nov. 5 beating.
“They could’ve killed me, though, and not make me try to be who I wanted to be when I grew up… I want to meet them to ask them why it had to be me,” Kamara said.
‘Cowards in The Night’
Two white teenagers, described as “cowards in the night” by a prosecutor, have been charged in the early Nov. 5 beating near the intersection of Pine and Broad streets in predominantly black Park Hill.
Ralph Nicoletti and Bryan Garaventa, both 18, face counts of assault as a hate crime and criminal possession of a weapon. The teens, who pleaded not guilty, could get up to 15 years in prison, if convicted.
Cops are looking for two other suspects in the attack, which prosecutors said came shortly after members of the quartet shouted racial slurs outside a local nail salon.
Kamara said he had spent most of election night playing video games at a friend’s house. Around midnight, after watching the election results, he walked home. He was a few houses away from his home when a car pulled up just before a stop sign.
“That is when the two kids hopped out and I thought it was the cops,” said Kamara.
“So, I stood there. I’m waiting for them to search me, because if I run, [they’re] going to chase me,” said Kamara, adding that cops had stopped him once in the past, and let him go after finding nothing amiss. “They’re going to say, I had drugs on me or ‘Why you running?’ or ‘We got to take you to the precinct to see if you’ve got any criminal (record).’
Next thing he knew, Kamara said, he was being beaten. He said he put his hands over his face as the attackers clubbed him and called him “Obama.”
Another car soon drove by and the four men fled. “That car saved my life,” Kamara said.
Kamara said he got up, ran and jumped over a fence of a nearby house, and called his mom – and 911.
“If I wasn’t going to get up, they was going to kill me,” said Kamara, “because they kept hitting me hard.”
A Mother’s Nightmare
Kamara’s mother thought she had left senseless violence behind eight years ago when she fled war-torn Liberia with her son and settled on Staten Island. Now, she said, her life has been turned upside down.
“Every day, I have to give him medication for his head,” said Janeba Ladepo, 36, a resident assistant at the United Cerebral Palsy facility near her son’s school. “I go to work and I cry. I think about my son everyday.”
“We don’t deserve this. We are a poor people coming to this country for our daily bread.”
Ladepo said she wanted to see the other two suspects brought to justice soon.
“I’m not going to say that all white people are bad,” she said. “Four people did this to my son. I consider them to be bad people.”
Demands for Justice
The incident has shaken Staten Island and spurred demands for justice. Elected officials have put up a $6,600 reward. Some residents have proposed a borough-wide conversation on race, and have called on schools to use Obama’s upcoming inauguration as a “teaching moment” about racial relations.
“There is hate because of fear. There is fear because of ignorance,” Hesham El-Meligy, a New Springville resident and Muslim community representative, said at a recent public meeting of the Staten Island African-American Political Association. “We have a problem of not acknowledging the problem.”
Dora Berksteiner, president of the Staten Island African-American Political Association, said she received about 10 phone calls from Staten Island residents about children taunting other children after Obama’s victory.
“We have a black president and for some people, it’s like the world has come to an end,” Berksteiner said. “When he is inaugurated, I expect we’ll have more problems.”