Is the media to blame for Latinos’ absence in the debate about police-community relations? Recent waves of protests over police killings of African-American men have led several journalists, including BW’s Editor, to speculate why Latinos haven’t received equal attention.
The explanations vary, but most center on the black-white binary and the media. Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar argued that “I think the media does a great job of wanting to silo who we are as Americans…They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s the immigrant issue, that’s the African-American issue, that’s the Asian issue.’ No, it’s us.” Telesur English joined the conversation when it published an article with the headline “5 Latinos Killed by US Cops This Week—and Media Ignored It.” Actress Rosario Dawson commented on the black-white binary, stating, “We don’t hear about the many Latinos killed by police because, as a country, we’re used to binary [black-and-white] story lines.” Actor John Leguizamo talked about the need for Black and Brown unity. Others even have cited statistical limitations.
All these claims have validity, but they exonerate the complicity within the Latino community that has also led to this neglect. There are three other factors at play.
First, some major Latino media and political organizations have an abysmal record of covering victims of police brutality and subsequent protests. Second, Latino political advocates’ efforts to portray all Latinos as upward-mobile newcomers undermines problems affecting the large proportion of people who live in poverty. Finally, the newcomer perception, largely enforced by American political culture, erases the history of anti-police brutality activism and urban riots sparked by violent police confrontations in the community.
It is important to note that various writers have attempted to highlight this issue for years. After the 2013 police killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, a teenager shot by police in Santa Rosa, California, after an officer mistook a toy gun for an assault rifle, Latino Rebels founder Julio Ricardo Varela wrote an op-ed in NBC Latino and asked, “How many national Latino organizations shouted in front of TV cameras that justice be served?” Latino Rebels also spent a considerable amount of space covering the 2013 death of David Sal Silva. Writer Sabrina Vourvoulias penned a piece about police brutality and noted the political divisions within the Latino community. “Latino activism remains resolutely divided by region, national origin and documentation status,” she said. Many have raised unique perspectives, but these voices often go unheard in the mainstream.
Latino Media and Political Organizations
Until late last year, most major Latino media and political organizations barely reported on police brutality against Latinos. It was only in October 2015 that the National Council of La Raza announced that it would study police-community relations. Recently, several major Latino media outlets have noted the deaths of Anthony Nuñez and Pedro Villanueva, two teens killed by police in California. However, this level of coverage didn’t happen with other unarmed Latino teens like Hector Morejón of Long Beach, California in April 2015. Morejón died when an officer spotted him in a vacant building and shot him after believing Morejon pointed a gun. Police never recovered any weapon from the scene. Protests were local. Morejón’s name has largely been forgotten.
This has changed recently. In March, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos did a segment on Texas teen Jose Cruz. Cruz and his friend, Edgar Rodriguez, were breaking into an SUV attempting to steal car seats.
Off-duty Farmers Branch Officer Ken Johnson spotted the two boys and chased after them. Johnson crashed into the back of the boy’s vehicle, exited his car and fired upon them, killing Cruz and injuring Rodríguez. Even though the two boys were unarmed, Johnson claimed that he feared for his life. The protest over Cruz’s death in May remained a local news story. What’s even more starling is that while NBC had originally reported on the story, NBC Latino, which shares all Latino-related news published by NBC, never shared the story with their followers on social media.