Exclusive: Man in video speaks after Hoboken leaders call his rant 'hate speech'

Tuesday, May 9, 2017
EMBED <>More Videos

AJ Ross has more from Hoboken.

HOBOKEN, New Jersey (WABC) -- City leaders in Hoboken are calling an anti-immigrant rant, caught on camera, hate speech.

The man in the video is a street vendor who says that there is more to the story.

This all started over a parking spot, then quickly turned left with cell phone video showing the owner of the Vape Van spewing racially charged anti-immigrant slurs at another man.

But in an exclusively interview with Eyewitness News, Joseph Ruggiero claims he's not a racist, and the video he's featured in only shows a small portion of what really happened.

"F-immi go back to your (expletive) country," Ruggiero is heard saying on the video.

Hoboken leaders say this sidewalk confrontation crossed hate speech lines Saturday morning when the owner of the Vape Van unleashed a barrage of verbal attacks at another man over a parking space on Washington Street.

While he now fully regrets and has since publicly apologized for his words, Ruggiero says he was simply trying to defend his partner Nick Garcia, and should have used better judgement in the heat of the moment.

"It was a good at least seven to eight minutes of argument things being told back and forth, I was being called certain things," Ruggiero said. "He actually got in my face two times, he put his hand in my friend's face, I'm not sure what he was looking to do at that point."

Garcia says he first approached the other man, not seen in the video, who was sitting in a delivery van and politely asked him to move.

But he and his wife allegedly became hostile and started saying racial slurs in Spanish.

The tension prompted Ruggiero to react and he says only a small portion of the exchange was recorded.

"What was said to us was also very disrespectful, and that's not on camera as well," Garcia said.

"I just want to say that anything that I've said was out of anger, and when people get upset they say things that they really don't mean," Ruggiero said. "My whole family comes from mixed background, my two children are biracial."

The video clip has since gone viral promoting Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and other council members to consider revoking the Vape Van's vender license.

"Hate speech as reprehensible as it is protected, but this is not a First Amendment issue, this is an issue where somebody was subjected to bullying and harassment which is actually falling under our criminal statutes," said Ravinder Singh Bhalla, Councilman-at-Large for the City of Hoboken.

However Ruggiero's attorney believes the city has no grounds for a case, and if he could do it all over again Ruggiero says he would've handled things very differently.

"I truly don't believe that those kind of allegations have any merit. Fact is, Mr. Ruggiero didn't do anything that would give rise to this city being able to revoke his license," said James Lisa, defense attorney.

"If he was sitting here right now I probably apologize for my poor choice of words and I think that would be the end of it," Ruggiero said.

In the meantime, the city of Hoboken is launching a Business against Bigotry initiative, where business owners can collect and display decals saying everyone is welcome and diversity creates stronger communities.