Increasing availability of video evidence has reinvigorated public outrage over groundless police violence, but the issue is far from new. Racial and ethnic minorities — most notably, African Americans — have historically suffered from violent and discriminatory police misconduct. But Latinos, who also have been disproportionately affected by police brutality, have been largely overlooked.
National protests over police brutality and discrimination have placed government agencies and their law enforcement departments in the hot seat, demanding a comprehensive change to prevent further violence, death, and discrimination against African Americans at the hands of police. Consequently, lawmakers have vowed reforms to ensure that the demands are met. Despite cautious steps, the discrimination against Latinos by police is rarely taken into consideration by decision-makers when the subject of reform comes up.
The problem of substantial discrimination by law enforcement is well-recognized by Latinos nationally. In the 2017 Discrimination in America survey, 1 in 4 Latinos reported having experienced discrimination while interacting with the police. One-third of Latino men and 37% of Latino youth reported discrimination in encounters with police.
While some Latinos who died at the hands of the police have received media attention, the vast majority of deadly police violence toward Latinos goes unnoticed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Violent Death Reporting System, Latinos are 33% more likely to die from police violence than is the overall population.
The risk of police violence resulting in death among Latinos has increased in recent years. In 2017, Latinos accounted for approximately 20% of all reported deaths from police violence, up from 13% in 2013.
Additionally, the per-capita rate of deadly police violence among Latinos increased by 39% (0.28 to 0.39 per 100,000) from 2015 to 2017, compared to a rise of 12% (0.25 to 0.28 per 100,000) among the overall population. Although the latest CDC data are available only to 2017, more recent data from non-governmental independent organizations show parallel trends to 2019.
Hardly a standalone issue, law enforcement unfairness toward Latinos has been substantially associated with immigration. For Latinos, increased anti-immigration sentiments in the United States in recent years have led to the rise of explicit ethnic discrimination as exhibited by a drastic upswing in Latino hate crimes — the largest such rise for any racial or ethnic group.
The governmental response to immigration parallels discriminatory attitudes. A majority of immigration enforcement policies criminalize undocumented immigration and target Latino populations. Federal immigration enforcement practices, particularly those that involve collaboration with local law enforcement, have been shown by researchers to increase discriminatory police practices toward Latinos. Discriminatory policing also has resulted in a divide between Latinos and police. About 1 in 5 Latinos reported avoiding calling the police due to fears of police discrimination.
This combination of violent, discriminatory police practices and fear instilled by aggressive immigration policies represents a deep, systemic threat to Latino relations with law enforcement.
On June 9, Democratic Reps. Karen Bass and Jerry Nadler and Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to combat discriminatory police violence and racial injustice, marking a vital moment for large-scale reform. Such federal legislative actions, and statewide reforms, are needed to promote police accountability and reduce violent and discriminatory police encounters with people of color. However, national and state goals to reduce police violence will not be achieved unless discriminatory and deadly police violence against Latinos — the country’s largest ethnic minority group — is addressed.
Vincent Guilamo-Ramos is a professor of social work at New York University who heads the school’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health where Andrew Hildago is a research scientist.