After a jury in Minnesota found police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty for killing 32-year-old Philando Castile in 2016, Castile’s mother, Valerie, delivered a speech in response to the verdict. Outraged by the perceived failure of the criminal justice system regarding her son’s death, she declared:
The system continues to fail black people. And it will continue to fail you all…When they get done with us, they’re coming for you, for you, for you, and all your interracial children. Y’all are next. And you’ll be standing up here fighting for justice just as well as I am [sic].
The claim “they’re coming for you” stands out once interrogated. Black Lives Matter has placed the issue of police brutality and the perceived inherent systemic racism in the criminal justice system onto the national stage. Valerie’s statement claims that although African Americans are currently waging their struggle for police accountability, the failure to enact true police reform is a national problem. This is not essentially an implicit “all lives matter” claim, but rather she acknowledges the reality that anti-Black policies and anti-blackness in general truly affects everybody.
And yes, everybody includes non-Black Latinos, even if some refuse to acknowledge it.
Every public policy or discriminatory practice that disproportionately affects African Americans has also affected other groups. Poll taxes and literacy tests hindered many African Americans from voting after Reconstruction as Southern states developed discriminatory laws that became known as Jim Crow. While targeted largely towards African Americans, these policies also prohibited poor whites from voting. The development of the War on Drugs and the rise of mass incarceration led to a growth in the incarceration rate for African Americans, Latinos, whites, and Asians. Even today, broken-window policing, which originated out of concern for increasing crime rates in African-American neighborhoods in the 1980s, has led to the deportation of immigrants.
These historical policies and practices still have lingering affects today, but sometimes there appears to be an unwillingness to acknowledge how anti-Black policies affect non-Black Latinos. While some progressive voices from the Latino community have blogged or made videos about anti-blackness among Latinos in response to the Castile verdict, these voices have been absence from larger media outlets. Some Latinos probably assume that police brutality only affects African Americans primarily because these incidents dominant headlines. Even in cases where Latinos have been victims of police violence, outrage is local.
However, Valerie Castile’s notion that police brutality will eventually affect everybody overlooks developing trends. Police violence against Latinos has been going on for quite some time. Although the issue of immigration is once again at the forefront of Latino politics with the Trump administration, Latinos contiune to fall victim to police violence. Several infamous incidents have occurred just this year. In Chicago, police officer Lowell Houser shot Jose Nieves, who was unarmed, during a neighborhood dispute. The officer was quickly arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The case is still pending.
In May, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, police shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron after he allegedly struck one officer with a stolen car. In response, an officer fired into the car. While police claimed the boy had died after being shot in the head, video footage taken by Negron’s cousin of the aftermath showed Negron laying on his stomach. As the camera turned away, the boy’s head faced the other way. Whatever the murky circumstances were, in June, a proposed police-accountability bill put forth by the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus failed to gather enough support in the state legislature. This inaction only delays the possibility for true police reform.
Indeed, there are some non-Black Latinos who can avoid discussing this issue because they believe it doesn’t affect them due to their proximity to whiteness or higher socioeconomic status. But current trends show that plenty of non-Black Latinos in poor and working-class communities have increasingly spoken out against this issue. There have been, and probably will continue to be, more Valarie Castiles. It would be upsetting if more innocent non-Black lives have to be lost for some folks to recognize they have a stake in police reform.
Featured image: Police on horseback managing a crowd in Chicago, 2006 (Mark Fowler/Flickr)