Latino Activists Ask, When Should Brown Lives Matter?

Nov 5, 2016
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The slogan Black Lives Matter and the movement grown up around it has become a household name, but Latino's have also been disproportionately affected by police involved killings. They don't have a similar movement. Adrian Florido from NPR's Code Switch team wanted to find out why.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: In 2009, police officers in Anaheim, Calif., shot and killed 35-year-old Ceasar Cruz during a traffic stop. The next day, his mother, Theresa Smith, held a vigil for him. There, her 7-year-old grandson looked up at her.

THERESA SMITH: And he says, we need to protest. He really wanted people to know that they had killed his dad, you know. I said, let's do this.

FLORIDO: Smith protested outside the Anaheim Police Department nearly every Sunday for the next two and a half years. At first, a lot of people joined her.

SMITH: I was thinking, yeah, maybe we would have some sort of a moment 'cause we became really strong for a hot second.

FLORIDO: But as the weeks passed, fewer people came. On most Sundays, it was just Smith. This was years before Black Lives Matter started organizing around police killings. It frustrated Smith that she couldn't get more people to join her. She eventually got a settlement with police, but continued her activism. And she's talked with a lot of families about what kept them from protesting.

SMITH: Fear keeps a lot of Latinos from really joining the movement, I think. I think I've come to that conclusion. It's fear. It's fear of retaliation, of maybe being deported.

FLORIDO: According to data compiled by The Guardian newspaper, this year, African-Americans in the U.S. have been killed by police at more than twice the rate of Latinos, but Latinos are still more likely than whites or Asians to have been killed.

JUAN CARTAGENA: You would think there'd be a lot more of an uprising, a lot of protest activity with clear targets.

FLORIDO: This is Juan Cartagena. He works for the nonprofit LatinoJustice. He says there are lots of reasons there hasn't been more movement.

CARTAGENA: Because Latino groups are very well dispersed. We have pockets of nationalities, and they dominate in one part of country across another. In some parts of the country, the witnesses to these crimes are also within the undocumented portions of our population, and therefore they're not particularly encouraged to come out.

FLORIDO: There are also language barriers, the fact that many Latino advocacy groups prefer to focus on issues like immigration and the absence of media coverage. But the work of Black Lives Matter has started to influence Latino activism.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Spanish).

FLORIDO: Over the summer, protesters gathered at the Mariachi Plaza in East Los Angeles after police officers shot and killed a teenage boy. Police said he fired a gun. Witnesses disputed that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So we're out here, as you know, because last night - yesterday evening - Jesse James Romero, who was 14 years old, was murdered in cold blood by LAPD.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Among the protesters was Estela Rodriguez (ph), a diminutive woman who said police had also killed her son with 17 bullets.

ESTELA RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: I have to speak up for my son, she said, because he may have been worthless to them, but he was my treasure.

RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: It's time for us to unite, Rodriguez said. She called on Latina mothers hiding behind their grief to come out and fight for their children. Sol Marquez was one of the organizers of this protest. She's with a group called Centro Community Service Organization. It's organizing protests in LA each time a local Latino is killed by police. Marquez says pointing to black activism has helped her convince people to join.

SOL MARQUEZ: People are getting empowered by Black Lives Matter. It's great to be able to show them, hey, look, you're not alone. You might feel like you're alone and like it's only happening to you in your own neighborhood, but these people right across the bridge are dealing with the same thing.

FLORIDO: While this happens locally, nationally, there are also changes underway. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 40 large Latino groups, recently wrote the issue of police killings into its formal list of advocacy priorities. Hector Sanchez is the group's leader.

HECTOR SANCHEZ: This is very, very important, and this is going to systemically change the way we, as leaders - Latino leaders and organizations - engage on the issue of criminal justice.

FLORIDO: But he says this will take some time. Right now, he says, they're spending a lot of time defending immigrants and Latinos against the toxic rhetoric of this election cycle. Adrian Florido, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.