Living in the Rio Grande Valley, we know African Americans are not the only ones subjected to law enforcement abuse of authority, brutality and murder.  

We do not have to learn of Gregorio Cortez, or the Pharr “Riots” to know police are quick to conclude Mexican Americans are guilty of some crime, and to brutalize, even murder them.  

People living in parts of the U.S. where there is not a significant Hispanic population might not know. They might think racist police murders are limited to African Americans. One reason they are unaware certainly is police murders of Mexican Americans (and other Latinos/as), for whatever reason, do not receive media attention as do police murders of African Americans. Two recent events illustrate this.

However, as Jill Lepore states: “Between 1840 and the 1920’s, mobs, vigilantes, and law officers, including the Texas Rangers, lynched some five hundred Mexicans and Mexican-Americans and killed thousands more; not only in Texas but also in territories that became the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.” “The Invention of the Police”, The New Yorker, 23 July, 2020, p.66. 

Not long after officers murdered George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies murdered Andrés Guardado on 18 June. His crime, for which the 18 year old student was shot five times in the back? That has yet to be determined as, over a month later, Los Angles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, obviously an Hispanic himself, continues to stonewall everyone. He is refusing to cooperate with the Los Angles County Inspector General, and tried to compel the Los Angeles Coroner not to release Guardado’s autopsy results.

There are unsubstantiated allegations Andrés had a gun, which is possible given he was working as a security guard at an auto repair shop when police decided to shoot him—again, in the back, five times.

Sadly, Andrés Guardado is not the only Latino recently unjustifiably shot by police.

On 4 July, James Garcia, 28, was sitting in his car in a friend’s driveway in Phoenix, Arizona, waiting for his friend. Police were in the area because of a 911 call saying a man in the neighborhood had a knife and was threatening to kill people.

Reminiscent of Rayshard Brooks, James might have been dozing when the police approached; and they talked with him for ten minutes before two officers explicitly threatened to kill him, and then did. James’ crime for which two officers shot him eight to ten times? He exercised his constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure by refusing to get out of the car.  

Purportedly, he had a gun; but, again, that is disputed. As in the case of Andrés Guardado, the Phoenix Police Department is slow walking release of information regarding the shooting. The police did release an edited compilation of body cam video two and a half weeks after the shooting, but have refused to release the entire body cam footage of each of the officers involved. Consequently, there is no evidence supporting the police contention Mr. Garcia was armed and, if so, whether he threatened the police.

However, why allow the situation to escalate to the point police shoot him? Their patrol car had blocked the driveway, preventing Mr. Garcia from driving away. No officers went to the door of the house to inquire about the man sitting in the driveway.  

Let’s give the police the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume Mr. Garcia had a gun and even was holding it. In and of itself, after a ten minute conversation, is that any reason to shoot and kill him because he refused to get out of his car? Why not deescalate the situation by pulling back and simply waiting him out? At some point, for whatever reason, he would have exited the car.

Or why not contact people in the house, and let them try to talk Mr. Garcia out of the car? Had the police bothered to ask, they would have learned the inhabitants were Mr. Garcia’s friends. Thus, even if Mr. Garcia did have a gun, there were options available to police other than killing him—than murdering him. Tiring of trying to reason with him, why not just shoot him and be done with it? Far too often that appears to be cops’ logic.

Some contend by “diversifying” police, these problems can be reduced. That might help some; but it is no solution. Both officers who killed Mr. Guardado are Hispanic. One of the officers who shot Mr. Garcia is Hispanic, and also had at least seven complaints against him for accosting citizens, falsifying information/evidence, and excessive force. Of the six Atlanta police officers involved in assaulting, tasing and dragging two African American college students from their car the night of 30 May, five were African American.

Having minority police chiefs and/or female police chiefs might help some, but obviously does not help much. The Minneapolis police chief is African American. The Atlanta police chief was African American and Female. The Phoenix police chief who basically has been defending the officers who murdered Mr. Garcia also is African American and female.

One reason diversity doesn’t work as much as we have hoped was explained decades ago by a fellow Georgia State University student when Atlanta announced it would begin hiring African American police officers. I thought that was a good thing, and would reduce police abuses of African Americans in Atlanta. My friend immediately disagreed strongly.

Over the years, it appears his analysis has proven correct. First, he said, minority officers are going to be looked upon with suspicion by white male officers. Consequently, minority officers will be even harder on minorities than white officers because they are trying to prove they can be just as tough or even tougher.  

Second, he said, there is a culture, a mindset within police departments that will not change by bringing minorities into departments. That mindset will not be changed by diversity; nor by improved training. There is a culture of looking at the poor in general, and minorities in particular, as being dangerous threats to society. This is not just police culture, it is part of the culture of the nation.

What receives even less notoriety than police murders of Mexican Americans is police murders of poor whites. Yet, if we go into poor white urban areas, we will find poor whites are not treated appreciably different than African Americans or Mexican Americans. The difference is whites who are not poor are far less likely to be murdered by police than any of these.

Consequently, the problem is not just “race”; it also is social class. We live in a society that blames the poor, irrespective of ethnicity. Sadly, we even see ethnic minorities falling into this blame-game trap. We see it among some Mexican Americans in the Valley. Just because they have “made it,” they believe Mexican Americans who don’t “make it” don’t because of their own personal failures or inferiority.  

Studies are replete with evidence this simply is not the case. The societal deck is stacked against African Americans and Mexican Americans, and actually against poor whites too. It has been stacked for centuries. Just because a few manage to beat the odds does not mean the deck is not stacked. It just means some exceptions must be allowed to maintain the charade we live in a society of equal opportunities. We do not, and we never have. But we can dream. Far better, however, is to work to make that dream come true.

We can make every reform people have been discussing in the wake of the current spate of police murders—diversification, better training, removing many responsibilities from police, better psychological evaluating of candidates and even periodic psychological evaluation of officers, greater transparency, requiring body-cams, prohibiting choke holds, prohibiting no knock searches, demilitarizing the police, community policing, reforming our criminal justice system, citizen review boards.

There unquestionably is some benefit to each of these, and perhaps even some cumulative benefit if all of them are implemented. However, none of them individually or collectively will solve the problem of police murders of minorities and poor whites.

Ultimately, what must be done is what is implied above. We must make our nation much more egalitarian, and much more truly democratic. Those who control this nation have worked very hard, literally for centuries, to turn poor whites against African Americans against Mexican Americans against poor whites—divide and conquer.  

As long as we fight each other, we lose irrespective of who ultimately stands on whose necks.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Andrés Guardado.

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