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Where’s the outrage over Latinos killed by police?

As the nation is embroiled in a conversation around policing, some say the high number of Latinos killed at the hands of law enforcement should garner more attention.
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21 Jul 2016 – 04:45 PM EDT

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Pedro Villanueva, 19, was shot and killed by police in Fullerton, California, on July 3. Crédito: Kiesel Law LLP

They recite the names: Redel Jones. Charley Saturmin Robinet. Adrian Gustavo Solis.

On Tuesday mornings at 9:30 a.m., Black Lives Matter activists gather at the headquarters of the L.A. Police Department in downtown Los Angeles, at the weekly police commission meeting. They chant with protest signs in hand. And they often read the names of area residents who have been killed by police.

Many of those named are Latinos.

“You see people who don’t speak Spanish mangling the Latino names, but they speak them,” says UCLA History Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, who regularly attends the meetings. “It’s very powerful.”

The four-year-old Black Lives Matter movement has grown largely out of anger within black communities about police use of force, especially when it’s caught on camera. Though much less publicized, activists point out that Latinos often face the same treatment. Now, as the nation is embroiled in a conversation around policing, some say more outrage is due over Latino deaths.

“The existence of police abuse and police killings has to be addressed collectively by Latinos,” says Juan Cartagena, a constitutional and civil rights attorney and the President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “From a national perspective, we don’t see the same intensity of attention. When something happens in a community people often see it as an isolated incident. But it’s not.”

Between 2007 and 2014, more than half of those killed by police in Los Angeles county were Latino, according to Youth 4 Justice. Last year, 195 Latinos were killed by police across the United States, according to the Guardian’s database The Counted, making them the group with the second largest number of victims per million (3.51) after African Americans. That number is likely higher, because local authorities often don’t have the option to categorize victims as Hispanic when filing reports. Last year, 306 of those killed were black (7.27 per million), and 581 were white (2.93 per million).

Earlier this month, amidst the killings of two black men at the hands of police in Minnesota and Louisiana and the massacre in Dallas of five police officers, f ive young Hispanics were killed by police over the five days from July 3 to 7, in California, Arizona and Nevada. The killings marked 100 Latinos killed by police this year, most of which received little public attention.

“This isn’t an issue of comparing,” says Eric Rodriguez, the vice president of the National Council of La Raza, which began to study police killings of Latinos last year. “Incidents of unarmed African Americans being killed by police across the country are outrageous. And at the same time, it’s important for us to make sure the public understands that other communities are also being affected by unconscious or conscious bias.”

Though it’s difficult to quantify, the criminalization, incarceration and shootings have been compounded in the Latino community in recent years by the issue of immigration, experts say. That results in “an extra law enforcement regime allowed to racially profile the community,” Rodriguez says.

Gloria Hernandez, a mental health advocate in Fresno, has been documenting police killings in the heavily Latino city of Fresno for over 15 years, into a database she calls “Stolen Lives.” From 2000 to 2014, she says over 80 percent of those killed in Fresno – a hub for migrant farm workers – were Latino.

In 2009, Fresno police Sgt. Mike Palomino shot 32-year-old Steven Vargas, a father of five, while he was sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle. In 2012, Vargas’ family won a $1.3 million settlement from the Fresno Police Department over that wrongful death. Despite a promise for reform at the time, officer-involved shootings have since continued at a high rate in Fresno.

Hernandez says she feels many people in the community are hesistant to protest because they are scared to speak out. Others are undocumented.

“The majority of our people are on parole and probation,” she says. “They can’t afford to be out on the streets. They can’t afford to get taken in and face the possibility of deportation for speaking out.”

On July 10, some 100 people showed up to a protest in Santa Ana, California, over the death of 19-year-old Pedro Villanueva, who was shot and killed by police July 3 in Fullerton, California. Undercover California Highway Patrol officers were investigating an illegal street-racing event and had pursued Villanueva in an unmarked car. They opened fire when Villanueva allegedly did a U-turn in his red Chevy pickup truck and drove toward them. In the aftermath, his friends and family argued that Villanueva may not have known he was being pursued by police, but perhaps thought he was being robbed. The case is currently being investigated.

Villanueva's family plans to sue the California Highway Patrol. In court documents filed Tuesday, his family claimed “The officers never had an objectively reasonable basis to shoot."

Ivan Enriquez, a student and the former chairman of the youth commission of city of Santa Ana, who was at the protest, says his community is growingly increasingly enraged. The protest drew activists from Black Lives Matter, Chicanos Unidos of Orange County and others.

“You’re starting to see residents really speak out,” Enriquez says. “Activism has existed for a while but we’ve never seen it at the level it’s at right now, and that’s because of Black Lives Matter.”

Black Lives Matter stems, at least in part, from a long history of black resistance and protest by groups like the Black Panthers, which came to rise in Oakland, California, in the late 1960s. Though not as widely known, Latinos have also long organized against police brutality and discrimination.

Between 1915 and 1918, law enforcement and Texas Rangers executed thousands of Mexicans who were part of an alleged uprising known as the Plan de San Diego. Then, in January 1918, a band of Texas Rangers and ranchers arrived in the village of Porvenir, Texas, rounded up nearly two-dozen men and executed them behind a bluff, leading to an investigation by the Texas Legislature and reform of the Rangers. The 40s saw the Zoot Suit Riots, in which white American servicemen stationed in Los Angeles during the war began attacking young Chicanos wearing zoot suits.

Later, Chicano and Puerto Rican groups seeking empowerment formed organizations against police brutality, like the Young Lords, Brown Berets and Chicano Revolutionary Party. In 1968, following a spate of killings by the San Jose Police Department, a nearly all-white force at the time, a small group of black, Latino and white activists began the “Community Alert Patrol,” to follow the cops and document or record abuses of authority.

Robert Chase, a professor of history at Stony Brook University, says that these examples can inform and inspire a current movement. “Recovering this lost history can help with a Latino response to police killings now,” he says. “If we have a history of resistance, we can imagine resisting again.”

Prior to recent protests for Villanueva, a few high-profile police cases involving Latinos did spark action that rippled beyond community boundaries. In January of last year, Denver police shot and killed 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, in a case that drew nationwide outrage. They say she and several teenage friends were driving a stolen car that struck and injured an officer.

A few weeks later, 35-year-old farm-worker Antonio Zambrano-Montes was shot in Pasco, Washington, after throwing rocks at police officers. The incident, which was caught on video, made its way across the internet, even drawing condemnation from the president of Mexico.

Gloria Hernandez says she has seen small, incremental changes in Fresno, such as comments of support on newspaper articles about police-involved shootings.

“It’s been a hard journey,” Hernandez says. “We don’t have any resources to fight this. But we’ve come a long way. As long as you can raise doubts and start questioning the use of force, things change.”

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