HOLLYWOOD, California—Benjamín Ramírez started selling corn and shaved ice here just two months ago, but he quickly realized one resident had something against him.
Ramírez, 24, says he told his father about a man who would approach him and just stare at him for minutes at a time. The man wouldn’t leave, he said, until customers came by to buy elotes, Mexican street-style corn.
His father advised him to record video of the man if he ever returned.
On Sunday, July 16, the man, accompanied by a woman and a dog, approached Ramírez’s custom-built cart and demanded, in Spanish, that he move off the sidewalk. Ramírez grabbed his phone and started recording when he saw the man approaching and holding what appears to be a stun gun.
Splinter has translated the man and Ramírez’s statements in the video from Spanish.
“Move the cart, or I’m going to move it myself,” the man can be heard telling Ramírez in the video. “Now. Now.”
In the video, Ramírez is heard explaining that he already moved the cart and pointed out there is a clear path for the man to walk through.
Moments later, the man can be seen asking the woman to watch the dog before walking over and flipping over Ramírez’s cart, with corn and bottles filled with toppings spilling all over the sidewalk.
Ramírez can then be seen throwing spicy chili powder on the man and grabbing a stick out of his cart. He was defending himself, he says. The woman points at Ramírez and tells him, in English, to “stay the fuck away.”
Later in the video, Ramírez accuses the man of being racist in Spanish.
“I am not a racist, you idiot mongoloid,” the man responds to Ramírez in English and Spanish. “I am Argentinian, you mental retard.”
An LAPD spokesperson told Splinter they received a call on July 16 around 6 PM and interviewed both parties. A crime report was taken for vandalism but no arrests were made. The LAPD declined to comment and said the investigation is ongoing. The police report has not been made public.
Ramírez says he sent the video to his father immediately after the altercation.
“Today wasn’t my day. This man made a disaster today,” he told his father over the phone.
His father ran about half a mile through the Hollywood streets to get to him while pushing his own vending cart.
Ramírez was born in Guerrero, Mexico, and arrived in the United States just eight months ago. He said he entered the country mojado, Spanish slang for entering the country without papers, and started selling food on the streets of Hollywood just a couple of weeks ago. Up until recently, he was washing dishes at a local restaurant, but needed a full-time gig (the restaurant was only offering six-hour shifts), so he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father, Alex Ramírez, sold popsicles in the neighborhood for 12 years before switching to selling shaved ice out of his own cart. In the nearly two decades that Alex Ramírez has been a street vendor, he said he’s never seen violent a confrontation.
His family struggled with whether to release the video—friends warned them to not call too much attention to themselves because they could be targeted by immigration officials (Ramírez, his father, and stepmother are all not authorized to be in the country). But after a week of not hearing from investigators, the family decided to go public with the video. Since his stepmother posted the clip to Facebook on Sunday, July 23, the video has been viewed more than seven million times and has been broadcast on local radio and TV stations.
“Right now, with Trump, we feel at risk,” Ramírez’s stepmother, Imelda Reyes, told Splinter. “We thought what needs to happen, will happen. We just want justice.”
Ramírez said he hopes the video shows people what he lived through.
“I felt nervous and a lot of anger when I was recording the video,” Ramírez told Splinter on Tuesday morning. He said he has not returned to sell in the neighborhood since the altercation.
Ramírez questions how much of his side of the story the authorities recorded in the police report because the officers who responded did not speak Spanish. He speaks very little English and his attacker, who claimed in the video to be Argentinian, spoke much better English, Ramírez said. He said he was still in shock when police arrived at the scene and forgot to show them the video he had just recorded.
So he decided he go to the police station to show officers the video—despite his friends’ warnings about police possibly informing immigration officials about his undocumented status. When he visited the police station to show the investigators the video, he realized the police report did not have his correct street address and phone number. He said the police officers told him that if he wanted the Argentinian man to compensate him for the damages, he would have to go to small claims court and gave him the address.
The neighborhood where the altercation took place is sandwiched between studios and a cemetery. The residential streets are lined with rows of bungalows and two-story apartment complexes. Historically, the neighborhood was mostly white, but as white neighbors began moving out to the suburbs in the 1960s and ‘70s, more Mexican and Central Americans, many of them political refugees, settled in the area, according to LA’s Office of City Planning.
“I think all the Americans that are moving want to kick us out. They want us out of Hollywood,” Marta Ibarra, who moved into the neighborhood in 1978, told Splinter. Ibarra lives around the corner from where the incident with Ramirez occurred. She said she first saw video of the incident after her brother in Mexico shared the video on Facebook.
Neighbors said the first responders to help Ramírez were women who walked out of their homes with broom sticks and plastic bags to help him clean and pack what could be salvaged. A woman who watched the scene unfold also called the police and identified herself as a witness to officers, according to Ramírez’s family.
Some locals claim they have have identified the man and the woman seen in the video. A name, phone number, and address have been widely shared across social media, including Facebook and Instagram. Police have not confirmed their identities. Multiple attempts by Splinter to verify their identities were unsuccessful.
The man reportedly works at the American Federation of Musicians Local 47. In a statement released on Tuesday, the labor union said they cannot comment on personnel issues so it’s unclear if the man is still employed.
“As a labor union we believe in immigrant and workers’ rights and stand for dignity and respect for all workers in our community,” the statement read.