Not Just a Baltimore Problem: Latinos, Racial Profiling, and Police Violence
Posted on 05/06/2015 @ 12:45 AM
Photo Credit: Jim Bourg/Reuters
By: Tyler Crowe, LULAC National, Policy and Legislation Fellow
“That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night's property damage nor upon the act’s group but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite has shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to third world dictatorships like China, and others plunged tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American's civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under a an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.” – Peter Angelos, Owner, Baltimore Orioles
In the midst of Baltimore’s worst riots since 1968, Peter Angelos cut right through the smoke and gunshots: our city’s past has created problems in the present. Central to the riots lies the case of Freddie Gray: a 25 year old African-American man who was brutally taken into police custody, slipped into a coma with a severed spinal cord, and ultimately died. The coroner’s cause of death: homicide by severe trauma. With these events, yet another chapter is added to the national conversation about excessive police force directed towards communities of color.
Although now catching the attention of the mass media, we must remember that police violence is not isolated to Ferguson, New York, or Baltimore and not solely directed toward the black population. In March of this year, LULAC urged the Justice Department to investigate the deaths of Antonio Zambrano-Montes in Pasco, WA and Jessica Hernandez in Denver, CO. They, like so many black men across the country, were victims of racial profiling and excessive police force. Even though cases of police violence receive strong public condemnation, these cases continue happening. Just last month another unarmed Latino teen was killed by a police officer in Long Beach, California.
As a civil rights organization, LULAC strives to help Latino communities across the country. In light of the cases in Denver, Pasco, and Long Beach, we have realized that our community is not exempt from violent confrontations with the police. Police violence affects Latinos too – and as an organization of action we stand with the Baltimore protesters’ calls for justice in the death of Freddie Gray.
Simultaneously, we must recognize the value of carefully studying the past in order to improve Latino lives in the present and future. Growing up, visiting family, working, and even driving around Baltimore has helped me to understand our city’s difficult past. It’s a story that stretches all the way back to the Civil War, when many Maryland residents were Confederate sympathizers and slaveholders. In the wake of the War, many Baltimore residents were motivated by the same race-based agenda as their neighbors down South. In 1911,the Baltimore City Council passed the first ever housing segregation law, leading to the passage of similar laws in cities like Atlanta, Louisville, and Richmond. Although eventually struck down by the Supreme Court, they were replaced by an informal series of codes designed to contain poor minorities within certain neighborhoods.
Why does this matter? Today Baltimore is often referred to as a “City of Neighborhoods” despite the fact that it’s one of America’s most segregated cities. As middle class families and capital began to move to the suburbs in the 1950s and 60s, Baltimore’s decline accelerated racial and economic segregation. Good schools, jobs, infrastructure, businesses, and communities are bolstered by stable households – something Baltimore just doesn’t have much of anymore. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Charm City has a 23.8% poverty rate – more than twice the national 9.8% average. Today, the few white areas in Baltimore stay white thanks to insulated neighborhoods and private schools. Meanwhile, poor minority areas – like Freddie Gray’s Sandtown-Winchester – suffer from violence, troubled schools, and urban decay.
In a city of such stark divisions, it was only a matter of time before riots broke out. That, of course, is not an admission of defeat in the struggle for justice. Sure, Baltimore is my city – it’s Freddie Gray’s city too – but if you look hard enough, you might see something: your streets, your neighbors, and your problems. We must stop looking at the current events in Baltimore as a "black issue," but rather an issue affecting all communities of color throughout the country. If anything, we should let these events be a catalyst for reflection and action.
Tyler Crowe is a Policy and Legislation Fellow at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. He specializes in issues related to the economy, resources, and good governance. He received a BA in Chinese Language and Culture and a Certificate in International Agriculture and Natural Resources from the University of Maryland-College Park.