In looking back at 2015 I can’t help but think of three important tenets of journalism: bearing witness, telling the story and holding institutions and public officials accountable.
Last year, Cosmo for Latinas commissioned me to write a piece about police brutality and Latinos. We were, after all, living in the time of #BlackLivesMatters in the wake of Ferguson, which I wrote about for the Texas Observer.
To tell the story, I walked the streets of my old neighborhood, Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where police officers had thrown a pregnant woman to the ground and, in another incident, stripped the blouse off a grandmother. I dropped in NYPD officers at a community meeting and spoke with experts.
New York City is hardly the only site of allegations of excessive force. In February 2015, police in Washington state killed an unarmed Antonio Zambrano-Montes after he allegedly threw rocks at them and ran. The same month, in Grapevine, Texas, police shot and killed Rubén García Villalpando, an unarmed father of four who had put his hands on his head and asked the officer, “Are you going to kill me?”
The guiding question to the piece became the headline:
Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About Police Brutality in the Latino Community?
Part of the answer comes down to who we define as “us.” Frances Negrón-Muntaner, director of Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, is because Latinos are never truly seen as Americans but always as foreigners. As a result, “If police kill a Latino, it’s only a Latino that was killed. Latinos are not generally perceived to embody larger social problems like racism or institutional abuse of power,” she said.
A fuller exploration of the question can be found in the magazine and online here.