Do Latino lives matter in the United States?

For as long as I can remember, Latino lives have not mattered much in this country. In the past few decades, thousands of young Latino men have been shot and killed by police officers throughout the United States. It’s an epidemic that no one seemed to notice until the recent Black Lives Matter social justice movement.

To reinforce my point: Can you name one Latino fatally shot by the police?

Most likely not, since the victims are usually ignored and forgotten. If someone stands up for the victim, then they become the target of surveillance and harassment by the police. Both the deceased victim and the advocate/activist may even be conveniently profiled as criminal, and well-behaved community leaders may shun or turn their backs on those who defend the victims.

The PBS NewsHour reported, “Among minorities, the rate of police killings for Latinos is second only to those of African-Americans. In 2016, 96 Latinos were killed by police, making up 16 percent of the 587 police-involved killings that year.”

According to the Statista web site, in 2017, 179 Latinos were killed by police. In 2018, 148, in 2019, 158, and, so far in 2020, 57 Latinos have been killed by the police. That is a total of 638 Latinos killed by police in the past five years. Do you know the name of one of the victims? They remain anonymous.

Many times a victim is accused of carrying a weapon or being a gang member to justify the murder.

Ricardo Diaz Zeferino was fatally shot by Gardena, Calif., police officers in 2013, and no major protests or prosecutions resulted. In 2015, Antonio Zambrano-Montes was shot and killed in Pasco, Wash., by two state police officers. Neither officer was prosecuted, and both returned to work.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, many police departments were given unfettered access to federal funds and access to buy military-style weaponry and surveillance equipment. Some police departments evolved from being law enforcement institutions to military-style operations.

Within the Latino community, families of the victims hold vigils to denounce these tragic killings. But rarely was justice served, and no media attention was given, until the Black Lives Matter movement forced career politicians to begin to listen and admit that an epidemic of violence against black and Latino community members does exist.

The truth of the matter is that we need a change in police culture, and we need police officers to see community members as human beings, not targets.

City councils and police oversight commissions must devise clearer and more stringent policies for the use of lethal force — especially in relation to the excessive use of Tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, and the shooting of deadly rubber bullets against peaceful protesters.

On average, the 10 largest cities in America spend about 14% of their budgets on funding police departments. The reallocation of taxpayer money towards social services, housing, homeless prevention, gang and violence prevention, food programs, and educational programs must be prioritized. City governments must reallocate taxpayer money towards social justice-focused programs.

It is time that we unify as a community, to demand that Latino lives also matter. We can no longer remain silent spectators. The young generation of Latino leaders must take the baton to become the change they want to see in the world and demand that Latino lives matter!