This may come as a surprise to many, but white cops aren’t the only people responsible for the disproportionate state-sanctioned murder of non-white people. Black, Latino, and even Asian cops —as we saw in the murder of George Floyd— too easily assimilate into the oppressive system law enforcement was built on. In other words, they become part of and uphold the white power institutions that depress non-white communities. As long as they abide by the system, they’re fine.
In a recent article titled, “When Black Cops Kill” I explored how Black cops are no less likely to fatally shoot Black people than white cops are. I also argue that buying into the notion that a badge makes them superior to others affords non-white cops access to one aspect of the white power structure. It grants them proximity to a system that too often costs innocent people their lives, disrupts communities, and dooms targeted groups to generations of poverty.
Black officers and officers of color killing unarmed Black people is a topic not often discussed but it’s one we should keep an eye on. There have been many instances in recent years of Black and Latino cops shooting and killing unarmed Black people and Latinos. While this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, it speaks to non-white cops embracing centuries-old propaganda that paints non-white populations as savages; brutes; thugs. Rhetoric that creates an “Us Vs. Them” mentality among cops. Where they consider civilians their enemy.
Especially non-white civilians and particularly Black and Indigenous people.
This brings me to officer Joe Gutierrez of the Windsor, Virginia police department. You know, the wannabe white and probably racist as hell Latino cop who threatened, pepper-sprayed, and tried to beat the crap out of U.S. Army second lieutenant Caron Nazario, a Latino Black man? Yeah, that guy. I don’t know about you, but, one thing seems clear to me. Gutierrez has some anti-Black prejudices he needs to address. It also seemed as though Gutierrez tried to do everything he could to escalate a simple stop. A mentality that almost got Nazario killed.
Turns out, Gutierrez was fired from the force on April 11, 2021. Scapegoated while the white cop who appears to have initiated the stop hasn’t received so much as a reprimand.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Gutierrez likely didn’t know Nazario was Latino. All he saw was a Black man and that clearly drove his interactions with Nazario. Gutierrez displayed the same disdain and resentment towards Nazario that we see from racist white cops all too frequently. Policing in America has anti-Blackness built-in. It makes homes for people like Gutierrez under the guise of diversity which we also know has no positive impact on cases of police brutality. In fact, police brutality cases continue to rise despite having more Black officers and officers of color overall.
The driving factors behind how police interact with certain segments of the population have been in place for centuries. From the first police officers until now, the premise of policing is to protect property while targeting citizens of color and purport to “protect and serve”. What led to the harassment and assault on Nazario is the same type of justification that led to the death of Duante Wright in Minneapolis. Like Nazario, Wright was pulled over for the tiny infraction of having air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror. Nazario was stopped for not having a license plate when his temporary plate was clearly visible on the back window of his SUV.
Nazario, however, is lucky to be alive.
The incident report written by Gutierrez indicates that Nazario refused to comply with multiple commands. But the video shows Nazario’s fears about exiting the vehicle. When Nazario informed Gutierrez about being afraid to get out, Gutierrez responded with, “You should be!” which makes Nazario’s “non-compliance” justifiable. Additionally, they justified classifying the stop as a “felony stop” not just because Nazario didn’t have a license plate but because he had tinted windows and had been “eluding police”. A statement which Gutierrez later undermined by saying, “As far as you not stopping because you weren’t comfortable, and you wanted a well-lit spot, Lieutenant, that happens all the time.”
Gutierrez, who is aware of the double jeopardy soldiers face when charged with a crime then attempts to threaten Nazario’s military career by saying, “If you wanna just chill, let this go, and no charges filed, we’ll take the handcuffs off, we’ll get you a bottle of water to drink on, and sit here until you feel comfortable driving.” The mere suggestion of charging a career soldier with a crime is a rattling thought. Gutierrez continued with his superiority complex by essentially giving Nazario an ultimatum. If Nazario hadn’t agreed, Gutierrez would’ve found something to charge him with. That has also been made very clear in the different videos released.
Will There Be Justice?
In my recent article mentioned above, I also explored how Black cops are routinely charged in the deaths of white people but are rarely charged in the deaths of Black people.“Systemic racism in policing does not rely on white officers to enforce it. In the modern era, it makes use of Black officers and officers of color to uphold the centuries-old system of non-white oppression.”
That statement rings true when talking about cops who brutalize Black people such as Gutierrez or Joseph Mensah, the former Wauwatosa, Wisconsin Black cop who killed three Black people in five years and never faced charges. After retiring from Wauwatosa in November 2020, Mensah is now a deputy in the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office. Had he killed three white people in 5 years, he’d be under the prison somewhere. Instead, since he killed Black people, he didn’t even have to move to find a new job. He still resides in the same county where he’s lived for years.
Despite Gutierrez being fired and the Virginia State Police called on to investigate, the incident in question took place more than four months ago and no action had been taken until the outrage over the video became palpable online. Like officer Mensah, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find out that Gutierrez won’t face any consequences and will have a new job in the next city or county in no time. When they brutalize Black people or Latinos, they get to keep their job as a cop. They just have to go to another department in a different locale.
Similar to Black cops being more likely to kill Black people, Latino cops are also more likely to kill Latinos.
A study for the project revealed, “Hispanic males were over 2.6 times as likely as others to be killed by officers from agencies with relatively higher percentages of Hispanic officers.”
According to the Fresno Bee, in California, “Latinos make up 39% of the state’s population but represented 46% percent of the of fatal police encounters in the state—just slightly behind the rate at which Black Californians were killed by police per capita.”
Another study by the Journal of Criminology also revealed, “…that while the percentage of white officers in the department decreased and Latino officers increased, so too did their involvement in police shootings.”
Latino cops who kill non-white people typically get away with it just as Black cops and white cops do. Many can argue that part of the problem falls on the lack of media attention when Latinos are killed by cops. But the reality is, the system is built on the premise of white supremacy. The system doesn’t care when non-white people are killed. Especially when non-white people are the ones brutalizing the non-white public for them.
Until they kill white people, of course.
Arturo Domínquez is an anti-racist politics nerd, journalist, and founder of The Antagonist Magazine. He is a top writer on racism on Medium and a regular contributor to several media outlets. He is also a proud member of the Writers and Editors of Color (#WEOC) Collective. If you’d like to learn more about the issues covered here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.