By Laura Gonzalez
Saturday August 9, 2014: This was the tragic day when Michael Brown, an 18 year old African American man, was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was unarmed when gunned down and witnesses report his hands were in the air when multiple shots were fired at him. Wilson has yet to be arrested or charged with any crime by the state of Missouri. Brown’s death has sparked controversy all over the nation, especially in Black communities. It has also ignited a new conversation about police brutality towards African Americans in this country. People often recall the Trayvon Martin case when speaking of Brown. Martin, who was 17 years old, was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a 28 year old who was acting as a “neighborhood watch” man. Zimmerman wrongly stereotyped Martin as a burglar for walking home from the gas station in his own neighborhood wearing a hoodie and khaki pants. Zimmerman pled not guilty. The death of both Brown and Martin ignited the question of whether we value black life in this country. As a non-black person of color, one might be thinking, “What does this have to do with me or my community?” I think now more than ever, is the time that other communities of color need to be paying attention to these recent events–the Latino community, in particular. History has shown that when the African American Community is affected by prejudice, Latino communities are affected in very similar ways. For example, when people think of lynching, they usually think of the Jim Crow era that affected African Americans in the south. What many people don’t know is that there were many Latinos, mostly Mexican Americans, were also lynched in the southwest states around the same time. In “The Law of the Noose: A History of Latino Lynching”, Richard Delgado, a law professor at the University of Alabama, discusses these events. “Mexicans were lynched for acting ‘too Mexican’, speaking Spanish too loudly, or reminding Anglos too defiantly of their Mexican-ness,” Delgado wrote. He explains that similar reasons–taking jobs, acting “uppity,” and percieved sexual threats towards white women–spurred the lynchings in both communities. What that means, is that if you and I were out singing “Cielito Lindo”, speaking Spanish, or proclaiming our pride in our country of origin, we would possibly have met the same fate that over 3000 African Americans and about 600 Latinos met during the Jim Crow Era. Even though the number of lynchings for African Americans is much greater than that of Latinos at the time, we were still affected. Our numbers were relatively small because we were not as prominent in the population as we are now. Our community was impacted by something that started as a “punishment” within the Black community. When it comes to the relationship with law enforcement, both communities have the same problematic things in common. Unneccesary traffic stops, police brutality, and stop and frisk laws have made a great impact in the Black and Latino community. The New York Civil Liberties Union, or NYCLU, reported that of all the New Yorkers stopped by the police, 53% were Black, 28% Latino, and 12% White; 82% of this group committed no crime whatsoever. Latinos cleary suffer similar rates of systemic discrimination as Blacks. Racial profiling leads to such frequent police stops of Latinos and Blacks. Let’s go back to the Trayvon Martin case. Zimmerman saw a young African American boy in a hoodie and assumed he was up to no good. Why was that? The media and news outlets often portray African Americans, sometimes Latinos too, as being aggressive and violent. These “aggressors” get assigned a uniform of baggy clothing, hoodies, and chains to easily identify them as thugs. Zimmerman identified this “uniform” and unfortunately decided to take matters into his own hands. This kind of racial profiling happens within our own community. Patrick Salazar, who identifies himself as Hispanic, is a 24 year old college student finishing up his degree in Professional Sales at Weber State University. Salazar is haunted by an incident of racial profiling involving his friends that took place when he was 14.
Salazar and a friend went to another friend’s house late one evening. On his way there, Salazar remembers walking through an elementary school parking lot and running into a couple of guys, but not interacting with them. Salazar and his friend reached their destination and were hanging out in the front of the house. “We were just being teenagers,” said Salazar “nothing crazy, no loud noises. We were both wearing baggy clothes,” he recalled. “It was the style back in 2004.” After about 20 minutes, a few cars drove by without much notice. Suddenly the cars came speeding back to the house with sirens flashing and that is when Salazar and his friends realized they were cop cars. The cops ran out of their cars with guns and flashlights drawn. “They put two 14-year-old boys on their knees with their hands behind their head without telling us why,” said Salazar. “The cops searched us, checked our pants our hoodies everything. They even looked around the house to see if they could find weapons.” An understandably confused Salazar finally asked the officers what was going on. It turned out that there was someone in the neighborhood that fit their description who was breaking into cars. The excessive force used in Salazar’s experience shows how racial profiling affects young men of color. “The part that’s most disturbing is sitting back and realizing one wrong move could have placed me at the wrong place at the wrong time. Officers are so quick to draw without asking questions,” He said. “We were boys, being treated like criminals. Lights in our eyes, guns drawn, I couldn’t even put my hands down without the cop telling me to keep my hands where he could see them while pointing a fire arm at me,” he said. “How do you make yourself believe they’re here to protect and serve when they treat you like a criminal?” This is a question so many people in the African American and Latino community have asked themselves time and time again when it comes to law enforcement. How many more of these injustices are we going to allow until we actually decide to act? Now is the time for communities of color to set aside any differences or conflicts we have towards one another and work together to bring us out of this cycle of institutionalized oppression. In solidarity, we can push for solutions that will keep our communities from being discriminated against and oppressed. Our lives have value, too.