Ferguson, Mo., shooting is not unlike similar incidents in Hispanic communities.
Peaceful protesters under siege by armed officers. A minority community roiled by issues of race and social justice. Allegations of law enforcement misconduct, conspiracies and cover-ups. These circumstances could all apply to the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Sadly, they go back as far as Aug. 29, 1970.
Forty-four years ago Friday, a huge crowd turned out for a march through East Los Angeles to protest the number of Mexican Americans dying in the Vietnam War. Although the gathering was largely peaceful, a few scattered reports of looting led the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to move in with tear gas, and the march degenerated into a melee. Scores of people were arrested, and three were killed.
Among them was Ruben Salazar , 42, the most prominent Latino journalist of his day. Salazar died after a sheriff’s deputy fired a tear gas projectile into a bar, striking him in the head and killing him. An inquest was later held, but the deputy who killed Salazar was never charged. Even today, there are lingering questions about his death .
Although they occurred more than a generation apart, the deaths of Ruben Salazar and Michael Brown are linked together by the common thread of alleged law enforcement brutality in minority communities.
That’s what makes the results of a new Pew Study troubling. Pew looked at the response to the Ferguson police shooting among whites, African Americans and Hispanics. African Americans were about twice as likely as whites to say that Brown’s shooting raised important issues of race that need to be discussed. A majority of Latinos agreed that Brown’s killing raised important racial issues. But only 18% of Latinos said that they were following the Ferguson news closely.
Yet Latinos should be following the Brown case closely. Like African Americans, Latinos are disproportionately policed and incarcerated . What’s more, Latino communities have too many of our own Michael Browns. Los Angeles police are investigating the death of Omar Abrego, 37, after he died in an altercation with two sergeants. Andy Lopez, 13, was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in Northern California because he apparently was carrying a pellet gun. Manuel Diaz, 25, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by police in Anaheim, Calif. in 2012. In fact, the deaths of Hispanics at the hands of law enforcement officers literally stretch across the country – from California to Oklahoma to New York City .
To their credit, a coalition of 39 leading Hispanic advocacy organizations issued a statement condemning the excessive use of force by police in Ferguson. The League of United Latin American Citizens, National Council of La Raza and the Hispanic Federation were among the groups expressing their solidarity with the Brown family, and calling for a full investigation into their son’s death. As Marisa Franco of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network wrote at MSNBC.com , “When Latino and immigrant constituencies see the case of Michael Brown, we should recognize this problem well.”She’s right. Hispanics, along with African Americans, share the struggle for full equality under the law.
Decades ago, Ruben Salazar wrote , “Mexican Americans … are on the lowest rung scholastically, economically, socially and politically. Chicanos feel cheated. They want to effect change. Now.” Switch out the words “Mexican Americans” and Chicanos” for “African Americans” and “Blacks” and Salazar could have been writing about the tensions in Ferguson. So there is no better way to honor his legacy than to continue the struggle against the discrimination, police brutality, and profiling that still plagues minority communities today.
Hispanics ought not to ignore the Michael Brown case. Latinos have a stake in Ferguson because we have a stake in ensuring justice for all.
Raul Reyes is an attorney in New York and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
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