Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
“The roots of rebellion,” a column I wrote in 2014 was a response to the killing of Michael Brown shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Spurred by the killing, activists organized the community into a social movement aimed at addressing police brutality. What Ferguson did was firmly plant roots in América’s consciousness; roots that needed watering and care to grow into a larger national social movement vowing to hold police departments more accountable. Today, it is called Black Lives Matter (BLM), an activist youth led movement which has thrown the machine into chaos. La Raza overwhelming supports BLM.
Corporate America, with its’ paranoid and guilt ridden impulse, coupled with its greed to increase the almighty dollar, has coalesced with the media as they pander to the squeaky wheel, the loud noises and the possible rebellion that could explode. To take the picture of Aunt Jemima off the box of pancakes and replace it with Uncle Tom still sells the product—false generosity at its best.
Where do Latinos fit in this picture? The challenge Latino communities face is not whether we should be included in the national dialogue—that is a given—but what we are willing to do to demand equity. Legislative circles and governments, driven by the fear of the masses, have vowed to develop relevant policies that will ameliorate the many issues that communities continue to face—adding increments of social justice to deteriorating police departments that have been transformed into social control agents, presumably protecting the interests of the elite. For Latino voices to be left out of the national dialogue is a travesty.
The time for Latinos to get back on the national platform has arrived. We cannot stand idly by and continue to watch the merciless killing of our people.
Death in our communities by fanatical police officers or the mob mentality that has recently gathered to protest the protestors, has become the norm. It is condoned by President Donald Trump. In an article written by Carrigan and Webb in the New York Times (2014), “When Americans Lynched Mexicans,” journalists stated that throughout history, more specifically, “from 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases.” This is the type of historical racism that La Raza has been subjected to for the last 500 years.
Are we not worthy of local coverage when Brown people are killed by police officers? What about coast-to-coast media coverage when our children are mistreated– the Brown children still incarcerated on the border? Do deaths in our communities have no meaning? Turn on your evening national news and you can count Latino representation on national media with the fingers on one hand. We don’t have hour long television shows hosted by Latino movie stars and celebrities where Latino contributions are highlighted. But we do have superstars in all media categories. Latino movie directors have produced movies worthy of national accolades, developed literary giants, trained some of the best athletes, received medals of honor in all facets of the military and produced presidential politicos. Where are our Latino national and community-based grassroots leaders and when will their voices be brought in front of the national media to share their voices? Latino communities need to ask why have we not been included in the dialogue with television and other media outlets.
There are many stories regarding police brutality in Latino communities, resulting in death but the names of the deceased, until recently, have not been present in the current narrative, sometimes attached as an afterthought, as marginalized groups in American society have been catapulted onto América’s radar screen.
During the melee about police brutality why hasn’t the story regarding the murder of thousands of Mexicans, published in the New York Times, been revived and shared? It parallels the hype about persons of color suffering historically at the hands of major city police departments, no different than the mistreatment of African slaves brought to this country to be exploited as fungible commodities and transformed into slaves. When will reparations for stolen land be offered to the aggrieved? Do media pundits who seemingly determine what national news is aired see value in the lives of a group whose labor built the infrastructure of the southwest and defended American democracy ad hominem?
Race relations in American society is slowly regressing back to a Black and White paradigm, relegating La Raza to social invisibility. The many deaths our communities have suffered at the hands of insensitive, racist police departments would add a vital dimension to the current storyline—many times, if we are lucky, we are only mentioned as an aftermath.
Let me take you back to refresh your memories regarding local murders and beatings committed by police officers that are abhorrent.
In 1999, Ismael Mena, an immigrant was killed in a no-knock warrant in East Denver. No-knock warrants allow police officers to enter a home without announcing themselves, typically in an effort to obtain evidence that could easily be destroyed or disposed of. In this case Ismael Mena was murdered as police barged into his home and killed him. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said, “that the affidavit of the investigating officer did not provide enough information to permit the judge to conclude that either drugs or guns would be found on the premises;” usually a rationale for entering without permission. There were apparent flaws in the warrant resulting in the death of Mena.
Michael de Herrera was beaten to a pulp by Denver police on the night of April 4, 2002 in Lo Do (a neighborhood in lower downtown Denver). The facts reveal that his father is a police officer from Pueblo and talked to his son while the beating took place. He wrote to then Denver Chief of Police Gerald Whitman, but was given the cold shoulder. As he vividly described in his 5-page letter to the Chief, “While still on the phone with Michael [during the beating] I heard a male voice state, ‘drop the phone m*****f*****’ and then I heard a thud. I know Michael had been hit…When I [finally] saw Michael, I was shocked, horrified and scared; his face was swollen and bruised, and it looked deformed. There were bumps all over his face; his face was swollen and blackened. He had stitches above his left eye, his mouth was bleeding and busted up, two teeth had been chipped, his arms and legs were bruised and cut.”
Frank Lobato, a 63-year-old Chicano elder who was ill and basically immobile, was murdered by Denver’s finest in the North Lincoln Projects in 2004 as they responded to a domestic violence between Lobato’s daughter and her boyfriend. Police claim that as they snuck into the Projects apartment, they believed that the can of pop Lobato held in his hand, while lying in bed was a gun and responded with gunfire. Project neighbors witnessed this killing; leaving them traumatized
In 2014, Ryan Ronquillo was a victim of state violence. Pegged as a fugitive with a warrant for his arrest for an alleged non-violent crime, he was followed into the parking lot of a funeral home and shot several times as the community witnessed his assassination. I spoke with his family after the killing, his father stated, “Those people that commanded this operation should be fired…killing an unarmed 20-year old kid during a sacred ceremony [a rosary for a friend who died] is disrespectful.” The community witnessed his shooting. At the community meeting, it was apparent that many carried the painful wounds of secondary trauma.
In 2015, Jessica Hernández, a 17-year-old teenager, driving a car that had been reported stolen, was pursued by the police and took refuge in a back alley. Police officers surrounded her and claim that she drove the car towards them and forced them to shoot in self-defense. She died as a defenseless young woman as neighbors were traumatize by the assassination.
In the aforementioned vignettes, which should have made national news but were buried beneath the rubble of police files, police officers were not held totally accountable. The time for Latinos to get back on the national platform has arrived. We cannot stand idly by and continue to watch the merciless killing of our people.
No, the name changing of Denver’s Columbus Park into La Raza Park is not an adequate reparation for the many lives lost on barrio streets, by overzealous police officers. The movement to change the name of the park was a catalyst for social change umpteen years ago.
¡Es la hora de revolución!
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 7-4-2020 Ramón Del Castillo.
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