Lodi News-Sentinel

Vigil held after dispute between neighbors, accusation­s of racism

- Wes Bowers and Bea Ahbeck NEWS-SENTINEL STAFF WRITERS

A dispute between neighbors this week sparked the call for a vigil to combat accusation­s of racism, followed by a statement from the Lodi Police Department, on Friday.

Lodi police posted to Facebook on Friday afternoon that the department had received numerous media inquiries regarding an incident that occurred on the 400 block of Lincoln Avenue the prior evening.

According to police, officers responded to a fight between neighbors at 7:20 p.m.

Officer contacted the two combatants, a 38-year-old Hispanic man and a 66-yearold Caucasian man, who were already separated.

Both appeared to be intoxicate­d, police said, and neither of them wanted any police action taken. Both men declined medical attention, the department said.

Lodi police received media inquiries about the fight — including from the News-Sentinel — after Pastor Nelson Rabell of St. Paul Lutheran Church posted an invitation to a vigil for the younger man and his family on Facebook late Thursday.

In his invitation, Rabell said the younger man involved in the fight was a migrant worker, and the vigil was a call to end racism in the community.

On Friday, Rabell said the younger man’s family contacted him after the altercatio­n, asking him to host the vigil in front of their home.

Rabell said neighbors told him that the older man involved in the fight had been harassing them, as well as the younger man’s family, for two years.

“We’re holding this vigil to support the family and to eradicate evil,” Rabell said Friday afternoon. “We don’t want any hatred in this town.”

Rabell said the family acknowledg­ed both men were intoxicate­d, and the younger man declined to press charges because he was afraid of repercussi­ons.

According to his family, the younger man suffered two fractured ribs during the altercatio­n, Rabell said.

Police said the fight appeared to be mutual, with neither man wishing to press charges against each other.

None of the statements provided to officers indicated the fight was racially motivated, police said.

However, officers did provide resources to some of the neighbors who felt that one of the men did not like them or their neighbors because of their race. Those neighbors were not directly involved in the fight, police said.

On Friday evening, dozens of people attended the vigil, with Rabell leading a prayer on behalf of the family.

The man’s stepdaught­er, Blanca Vergara, said her mother told her that when she and her husband arrived home on Thursday, the neighbor approached their parked car in the street and started yelling racist insults at them.

After Vergara’s stepfather exited the car and asked the man what his problem was, she said, the other man her stepfather to the ground and violently attacked him.

“We’re just really scared, it’s been over two years that this has been going on,” Vergara said. “It’s just concerning because now (the police) are saying on Facebook it had nothing to do with racism, which I don’t understand why they are saying that. We just want this all to be over, because we’re just really scared.”

Rabell said there are valid reasons why migrant workers might choose not to file a report or cooperate with police.

“Some of them are concerned with their immigratio­n status; that’s why they might not trust the police officers, necessaril­y,” he said. “And we need to show them support and help them create those links and bridges of communicat­ion with the police so that things like this — I don’t know what happened (because) I wasn’t here — but if we take them at their word, we know that something did happen. So we want the police to be aware that their version of things is a little different from what has been posted.”

 ?? BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL ?? Pastor Nelson Rabell, third from right, prays over the family alongside the community during a vigil in Lodi on Friday evening. To his right is Deacon Tom Hampson of St. John Episcopal Church.
BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL Pastor Nelson Rabell, third from right, prays over the family alongside the community during a vigil in Lodi on Friday evening. To his right is Deacon Tom Hampson of St. John Episcopal Church.

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