Jessica (Jessie) Hernandez, 17, shot to death by police Jan. 26, 2015, in Denver, Colorado. She was unarmed, but is alleged to have intentionally pointed the stolen car she was driving at the police officer who shot her, pinning him to a wall and breaking his leg. The accounts from witnesses (there were four teens in the car with Hernandez) contradict the police report and also raise questions about the way Hernandez's body was handled after she was shot. Photo from her Facebook page.
The dead who make no noise
Hay muertos que no hacen ruido, Llorona
y es más grande su penar.
— from the Mexican folksong "La Llorona"
Jessie Hernandez. Rúben García Villalpando. Antonio Zambrano Montes. Ernesto Javier Canepa Díaz. Hector Morejón.
Nearly every month of the year so far in 2015 has seen a police shooting of an unarmed Latino or Latina that fuels the debate about whether police officers habitually use excessive force in their dealings with minority communities.
Like Michael Brown, Hernandez and Morejón were teenagers, barely more than children really. So much so that Morejón died calling for his mother, even as she was barred by police from riding in the ambulance with him. He was shot during police response to a call about trespassing and possible vandalism, and the police say no verbal warning was issued before he was shot.
García Villalpando's interaction with the officer who would ultimately shoot him dead was caught on video, and stops just seconds before his death — like the video of Eric Garner. If the 31-year-old's question as he gets out of the car, "Are you going to kill me?" isn't as plaintive as "I can't breathe!" it is, nonetheless, just as chillingly predictive.
Zambrano Montes's shooting is shown in a video that is as haunting and disturbing as Walter Scott 's — Zambrano Montes runs away from officers, the cops fire 17 times until he goes down. Meanwhile, tellingly, the bystanders watching and recording the incident comment in Spanish that the 35-year-old had nothing but a rock in his hands, and then argue with each other about getting out of the vicinity before they, too, are shot by the cops on the scene.
Canepa Díaz's family have called police "a gang with a badge," and question everything from the their decision to follow the 28-year-old father of four because his van resembled one in a security tape of a theft, to the department's silence about the details of the confrontation after he was stopped, to the police's focus on a replica bb-gun that was in the van but not in Canepa Díaz's hand when he was shot.
Hernandez was shot and killed in January; García Villalpando, Zambrano Montes and Canepa Díaz in February; Morejón in April. March was a good month.
Or maybe we simply haven't heard about an instance from March yet.
"Latinos are a rising number of fatal police shooting victims," Colorlines noted back in 2007, but it is increasingly apparent that those Latino deaths cast very little shadow on the national consciousness.
The protests about Hernandez's shooting in Denver drew an unusually large number of protesters (approximately 800, compared to the more usual two dozen who protested for Canepa in Santa Ana, or Morejón in Long Beach, Calif.), largely because LGBTQ advocates and the Denver Freedom Riders joined in. Democracy Now devoted a segment to the alleged discrepancies between the police reports and autopsy of the young Latina lesbian, and the hacktivist group Anonymous got on Twitter to call her killing a murder. For a while it looked like Hernandez's face might become one of the youthful faces tied inextricably to the demand for justice and police accountability.
But the hubbub died down and when the New York Times started talking about the Latino community's "Ferguson moment" with the police shooting of Zambrano Montes, there was no memory of Hernandez in the piece.
The Mexican Office of Foreign Affairs has demanded a Department of Justice investigation of not only of the Zambrano Montes shooting, but also Villalpando's and Canepa's (since they all held Mexican citizenship and all three instances happened within days of each other), and that has granted it more widespread media attention, as have multiple protests in Washington that have drawn up to 700 people.
But even with its ugly video evidence, the Zambrano Montes case hasn't galvanized Latinos nationwide like the killings of Brown, Garner and Freddie Gray galvanized African Americans across the United States.
Jasón Calderón, of Hoy en la Noche, posits that seasonal workers and undocumented immigrants are too fearful these days to rally in protest — a reflection of how much more punitive the deportation machine has become since the mid 2000s, when millions mobilized in "Day without an immigrant" marches across the nation. Calderón's assessment is a simplified version of journalist Leon Krauze's analysis of why those in Pasco — a majority Latino city — didn't rally in greater numbers.
Krauze, who is the anchor at Univision's KMEX in L.A., said in an interview with NPR that despite a substantial population of third- and fourth-generation Mexican-American families, the seasonal workers in Pasco are hesitant to speak up. "It's just a matter of a simple cost-benefit analysis," he told Jasmine Garsd, "Would you run the risk of deportation in order to pursue what I think is still an abstract, quote, unquote, benefit?"
In the same interview, Julio Ricardo Varela, the founder of the website Latino Rebels, said the subdued national response indicated a lack of Latino unity.
But none of those address the fact that expressions of solidarity from outside the Latino population have been few and far between.
"Violence or discrimination against Latinos does not tend to resonate among most Americans because Latinos are generally not perceived as Americans but recent immigrants or foreigners with no deep roots and histories in the U.S.," said Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the director of Columbia University's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, when asked why that was so by the Huffington Post.
And the lack of Latino representation in the general interest media doesn't help, Negrón-Muntaner added.
But African Americans are also underrepresented and inaccurately portrayed by the media, and yet Michael Brown and Eric Garner have become not only household names, but a call to action about police impunity and body cams.
It began with a tweet, and continues on social media platforms where activism and community have made hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName extraordinarily effective ways to draw attention to ignored issues. And turned what might have otherwise stayed local into national. It is no exaggeration to say that those hashtags provided a strong, unified voice for African Americans in the United States, and spurred alliance and coalition of heretofore unimagined scope.
As Varela pointed out, no Latino sense of unity of purpose has been achieved even with the number of police killings that have taken place in 2015 so far. Unlike Black Twitter, Latino Twitter (if such a collective entity exists in anything but theory) has been unable to muster up even one memorable hashtag to rally around. Latino activism remains resolutely divided by region, national origin and documentation status.
Some Chicano and Mexican-American activists point out that since a majority of victims of police shootings are Mexican, or Mexican-American, to say "Latinos killed by police" obscures the truly directed nature of use of excessive force by police. And there certainly is a great deal of resonance in that argument. There is a long history of "law enforcement" outrages against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (including lynchings and wholesale repatriation) that no other Latino heritage group has had to struggle against.
Nevertheless, efforts to abandon the encompassing (albeit flattening) terminology forget that Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, South and Central Americans and others are — depending on the location — also fighting the profiling and stop-and-frisk police policies that so often lead to officer involved shootings. The inability to speak as a group — as the 16 percent of the U.S. population Latinos are — weakens the ability to forcefully articulate concerns about treatment by local police officers, state troopers, ICE agents or Border Patrol alike.
In any case, the hashtags associated with the Latinos killed in 2015 haven't broken through in the way of #BlackLivesMatter. They are less calls to action than heartbreakingly individual memorials, and so our Latino dead make less noise and cast smaller shadows on our national conversation than they could — and should.