Albanian Teen-agers Linked to Racial Attack; Community Agonizes
NEW YORK (AP) _ Members of New York’s Albanian immigrant community say they fled to get away from bigotry, abuse and political oppression.
Now, Albanian teen-agers have been linked to two racial attacks against black and Hispanic children, and many community elders say the allegations are premature and hurtful.
″I cross my fingers that they’re not Albanian,″ said businessman Vic Vuksanaj, who came here 26 years ago. ″I am pure Albanian blood, born in Yugoslavia. But the No. 1 person in my life was President John F. Kennedy.″
Black and Hispanic children were attacked by white gangs and smeared with white paint in two incidents this month. Police are investigating reports that the assailants claimed membership in Albanian gangs.
Two names that have surfaced are the Albanian Bad Boys and Albanian Boys Inc.
Of an estimated 500,000 Albanians in the United States, about 120,000 live in New York, said Deborah Angus, editor of Illyria, a biweekly Albanian- American newspaper.
The heart of the community is Belmont, a section of the Bronx that is also home to Italians, Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Irish and Caribbean-Americans.
″The whole concept of this kind of abuse doesn’t make sense. It’s horrifying,″ Angus said. ″Their hearts are as good as gold.″
Many Albanians expressed sympathy for the victims but also said they are heartsick about the publicity linking the assaults to Albanians.
″We’re not a racial people, so it’s kind of a surprise to me that it would manifest itself,″ said the Rev. Arthur Liolin, chancellor of the Boston-based Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese of America. If Albanians were involved, ″it may be a territorial phenomenon,″ he said.
Some wondered whether the victims or police made a mistake or whether the assailants were ethnic rivals from Yugoslavia who falsely claimed to be Albanians to disgrace the community. Ethnic Albanians make up about 10 percent of the population in Yugoslavia, where ethnic diversity has been a source of strife for centuries.
Police said they aren’t sure who was responsible for the attacks, which occurred on Monday and on Jan. 6. No arrests have been made.
Police sent sound trucks through the neighborhood this week urging witnesses to step forward. Patrols have been beefed up around schools and streets.
The Albanian gangs are described by residents and police as loose-knit groups of teen-agers.
″They’re just a bunch of knuckleheads who hang out in the neighborhood,″ Detective Sgt. Frank Viggiano said in today’s New York Times. ″All groups of kids give themselves different names.″
Other police officers told the Times that some of the Albanian youth gangs include blacks, Hispanics and whites.
Albanians said the attacks are uncharacteristic of a people who suffered oppression and discrimination in Albania and Yugoslavia.
″We’ve worked hard - starting as the poorest janitors and superintendents to become property owners,″ said Harry Bajraktari, a businessman and community leader who emigrated in 1970 at age 13.
But some also acknowledged there may be bigots in their community.
″Those who were former slaves, in order to purge themselves of inferior positions, have assumed the positions of slave masters,″ Liolin said. ″That’s the American story of bigotry. None of it can be excused, of course. It can be understood.″
Bajraktari said he fears that the entire community may be blamed for the actions of a few.
″We want to see the people who have harmed the victims be caught and punished to the extent of the law, whether they’re Albanian, Greek, black, white, yellow, green, whatever,″ he said.