There’s a Reason You Haven’t Heard About the ‘Latino Lives Matter’ Movement

The officer-involved shooting death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Washington state has activists wondering about the lack of protest and media attention.
Pasco, Washington, Police Chief Bob Metzger holds a press conference discussing the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes. (Photo: YouTube)
Mar 28, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Britni Danielle is a regular contributor to TakePart. She writes on a variety of subjects for Clutch, Ebony, Jet, and others.

At the press conference earlier this month announcing the Department of Justice’s release of a scathing report on discriminatory practices and bias by the police force of Ferguson, Missouri, Attorney General Eric Holder said the issues plaguing the city’s police department “are not confined to any one city, state, or geographic region.” Indeed, high-profile killings of unarmed African Americans by law enforcement officers in Staten Island, New York; Cleveland; Madison, Wisconsin; and Los Angeles have reignited a debate on police violence and how to (re)build trust between communities of color and those sworn to protect them.

While Ferguson’s ardent protesters have been praised for advocating and achieving change in the wake of firings, resignations, and the possible DOJ lawsuit against the city, many in the Latino community are wondering why a February shooting in Pasco, Washington, hasn’t garnered the same media attention and federal scrutiny.

Why, wondered journalist Raul Reyes on a recent segment of José Díaz-Balart’s MSNBC show, hasn’t the fatal shooting of unarmed Antonio Zambrano-Montes sparked a “Latino Lives Matter” movement?

On the surface, Pasco seems comparable to Ferguson. The small Washington town is 56 percent Latino, but its elected officials and law enforcement agencies are almost all white. Similarly, Ferguson is 67 percent black, but its police force and city council are majority white. Since July 2014, Pasco police have killed three people, including Zambrano-Montes, who was shot 17 times. The horrific shooting was caught on camera and showed the 35-year-old man being gunned down by officers after throwing rocks at passing cars. His death resulted in anger and protests by residents, and this week the Department of Justice said it was sending a federal mediator help soothe tensions in the town.

Though it’s clear Pasco has its own challenges, it’s not Ferguson. For days, demonstrators braved militarized police tactics in the St. Louis suburb, calling for change and using social media to spread the “Black Lives Matter” movement across the nation as new incidents occurred. Instead of waiting for mainstream media to cover the story, activists took to Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and streaming to tell it themselves until the media could not look away.

“The Latino population did not respond nationally as African Americans did concerning the killing of African American men by police,” said Nestor Rodriguez, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, Austin. Though Rodriguez noted “police have been killing black and Latino youth for decades,” the swift response by the black community—first on social media, then offline— made the difference in forming a movement, he said.

“When it comes to Latinos, a large percent are immigrants or children of immigrants, so they have a host of issues to deal with in regard to status,” Rodriguez said. “To some extent the Latino community is already overwhelmed by other issues,” such as trying to keep families together.

NBC’s Reyes offers an alternative view. He argues the country’s limited definition of race is partly to blame.

“Part of the problem is that for hundreds of years this country is used to thinking of race relations, literally, as black and white,” he said during Díaz-Balart’s show. Although Latinos—a group comprised of people from various nations and races—have been in the U.S. since before its founding, Reyes argues the nation has failed to include them in discussions about race.

“These cases have been happening, involving unarmed Latinos, all over the country,” he said. And he’s right. Last August, just days after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, LAPD officers beat Omar Abrego to death during a traffic stop. In February, officers in Santa Ana, California, shot and killed Ernesto Javier Canepa Diaz when police alleged he became “uncooperative.” This month, protestors packed a North Richland Hills, Texas, city council meeting following the killing of Rubén García Villalpando. Despite community demonstrations and the Mexican government calling for federal investigators to get involved, these cases have largely been ignored.

Reyes questions why these incidents have fallen on deaf ears. “We still haven’t seen the national outrage and increasing Latinos are looking around and asking, ‘Why is this happening?’ It’s not enough to have it covered in Spanish-language media. This is an American problem,” he said.

Police violence is indeed an American problem. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examined data on police killings between 1996 and 2011 and found that African Americans were killed at 2.8 times the rate as whites, with Latinos close behind at 1.9 times the rate of their white counterparts. These numbers are not surprising, but the media’s response to killings involving African Americans is quite new.

“The media tends to have a herd mentality, following along where others have already gone. So, stories about unarmed black men are going to continue to get attention,” said Tomás Jiménez, director of Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Stanford University. “What’s crazy is that unarmed black men have been getting gunned down by police officers for decades, so it is a little surprising that everyone is just now paying attention when this has been an ongoing, slow-moving tragedy that has been unfolding for several decades,” he said.

While blacks and Latinos share a tendency toward being killed by cops, it isn’t the only similarity. Both groups are disproportionately affected by poverty, crime, and inadequate access to education and health care. These challenges seem rife for cooperation between the communities—yet that isn’t always the case.

“It’s not because of lack of interest,” Rodrigtuez said. He’s worked with inter-ethnic groups such as the Southern Education Foundation, one of the oldest black organizations in the South, to strengthen partnerships between African Americans and Latinos. “Sometimes people are just so overwhelmed with the issues that face these two populations that you can’t just do everything at once,” he said.

While it remains to be seen what emerges from the DOJ’s mediation in Pasco, what is clear is that if the “Latino Lives Matter” movement is going happen, it’s going to have to come from the community itself.