Brown Lives (Now) Matter

#FTP, Film the Police (Timothy Krause/Flickr)

#FTP, Film the Police (Timothy Krause/Flickr)

Last week the National Council of La Raza announced the launch of “And Justice for All,” a blog series examining relations between Latino communities and the police departments meant to protect them.

From the NCLR:

By lifting Latino experiences to the national level, otherwise untold stories can contribute to these long-overdue conversations. The overwhelming interest in our workshop ‘An Untold Story: Abusive Policing and Lost Latino Lives’ at the NCLR Annual Conference in July underscored the need to raise more Latino voices now.

In the series, you’ll hear from an Affiliate who sees injustice in the community every day and has engaged local police about it. A police officer will share an insider’s perspective of current law enforcement practices. Youth who otherwise felt silenced will finally be able to speak.

As we’ve all seen, talking about these issues can lead to uncomfortable — and sometimes intense — discussions. These stories are not always easy to tell or hear, but change cannot happen unless we agree that it must.

This has been a long time coming. Many Latinos have wondered when they would see leadership from groups like the NCLR or the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the other prominent civil rights organization that thus far has been relatively quiet on the issue of police brutality against Latinos.

It could be that the lack of hard data on the number of Latinos killed by police each year makes it difficult for Latino groups to build a strong cause around the issue. In August, Al Jazeera America reported on the underwhelming attention given to Latino killings at the hands of police, citing the fact that government officials organize such information by race, not ethnicity — which is what Latinos are, an ethnic group. In the end, after sifting through data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and a crowdsourcing initiative organized by The Guardian, it found that Latinos are actually underrepresented in police shooting deaths, though by a measly two percent.

The same Al Jazeera report also notes that, due to limited resources, Latino advocacy groups until now have opted to focus their efforts on one or two issues, leaving the #BrownLivesMatter on the back burner:

‘Immigration as an issue tends to suck all the air in the realm of Latino advocacy,’ [said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center].

Large organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and La Raza have 11 million reasons — the estimated number of immigrants here illegally — to expend the bulk of their lobbying and advocacy work on protecting the rights of immigrants. Newer organizations — Mi Familia Vota, Latino Victory Project — have organized to boost Latino’s political clout through voter registration campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts.

‘We are up and coming and a force to reckon with,’ [said Irastema Garza, policy consultant at the NCLR]. ‘Other social issues are perhaps not getting the same level of attention.’

That’s understandable, said Gregory C. Brown, associate professor of criminal justice at California State University, Fullerton, who teaches a class on minorities in the criminal justice system. ‘You have to pick and choose your battle.’

As both the report and the NCLR’s announcement point out, the issue of police brutality against Latinos was front and center at the group’s national conference back in July, which, combined with pressure via social media, likely convinced the NCLR that the issue was one it could no longer ignore.

Only time will tell, however, whether the NCLR seriously addresses issues of police brutality and mistrust among Latinos, or whether this is merely a token gesture.


Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

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