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Violence Against Minorities on Rise : Bias: Gay men have supplanted African Americans as the primary target of hate crimes in Los Angeles County.

May 17, 1994|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The boy next door was exactly who terrorized John Ruiz and his family in Arleta for two years. Paul M. Downing, who mistakenly believed that Ruiz was Jewish, spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas on the walls, set fires in their home and fired shots into the window.

Ruiz, a Catholic of Spanish ancestry, said he had "a great deal of difficulty" in getting police interested. Detectives turned up nothing. Ruiz turned to the Anti-Defamation League, who persuaded the FBI to pursue it as a civil rights violation. Downing pleaded guilty to eight felonies and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1991.

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But the fight left profound scars. After spending $20,000 on fire repairs, Ruiz sold his home of 15 years, where he had hoped to retire. He lost his job as a national sales manager because he was afraid to leave his family to go on business trips.

Today, Ruiz lives in a security building, in a place he will not reveal. He no longer registers to vote because he fears that Downing could obtain his address. He and his wife flinch each time a motorcycle passes because the hatemonger once harassed them from his motorcycle.

"This has been such a trauma in our lives that we just can't shake it," Ruiz said "I am an Everyman. I believe in live and let live. I love my country. And it's horrifying to me that this can be happening in America. But you can't let something like this consume your sanity because then he won. To a degree he won anyway. This will always be with us."

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