In the early 21st century, there have not only been a growing number of hate crimes against Latinos but also a growing number of police misconduct cases involving Latinos. Racism, xenophobia and rising concerns about undocumented immigration have collectively led to greater incidences of law enforcement agents racially profiling, harassing and brutalizing Hispanics. Across the nation, police departments have made headlines for their mistreatment of the Latino population. These cases have not only involved undocumented immigrants but Hispanic Americans and permanent legal residents as well. In states as diverse as Connecticut, California and Arizona, Latinos have suffered at the hands of police in egregious manners.
Latinos Targeted in Maricopa County
Racial profiling. Unlawful detainment. Stalking. These are some of the inappropriate and illegal behaviors that officers in Arizona allegedly engaged in, according to a May 2012 complaint the U.S. Justice Department filed against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. MCSO officers stopped Latino drivers anywhere from four to nine times more than other drivers. In some cases, MCSO officers pulled over Latino drivers without valid reason only to detain them for long periods. In one instance, MCSCO officers pulled over a car with four Latino men inside. The driver hadn’t violated any traffic laws, but the officers proceeded to force him and his passengers out of the car and make them wait on the curb, zip-tied, for an hour. The Justice Department also detailed incidents where law enforcement followed Hispanic women to their homes and roughed them up. What’s more, the federal government alleges that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio routinely failed to investigate cases of sexual assault against Hispanic women.
The aforementioned cases refer to police interaction with Latinos on the streets of Maricopa County, but inmates in the county jail have also suffered at the hands of law enforcement. Female prisoners have been denied sanitary products while menstruating and called derogatory names. Hispanic male inmates have been on the receiving end of racial slurs and put downs such as “wetbacks” and “stupid Mexicans.”
Border Patrol Killings
It’s not just local law enforcement agencies that have been accused of racial profiling Latinos and committing acts of police brutality against them, it’s also the U.S. Border Patrol. In April 2012, Latino advocacy group Presente.org launched a petition to raise awareness about the Border Patrol’s fatal beating of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, which took place two years earlier. The group launched the petition after a video of the beating emerged to pressure the Justice Department to take action against the officers involved. “If justice isn’t served for Anastasio, even when video clearly shows injustice, Border Patrol agents will continue their pattern of abuse and lethal force,” the Presente team said in statement. Between 2010 to 2012, Border Patrol agents were involved in seven killings, according to Presente.
LAPD Officer Found Guilty of Profiling Hispanics
In an unprecedented move in March 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department determined that one of its officers had engaged in racial profiling. Which group did the officer in question target? Latinos, according to the LAPD. Patrick Smith, a white officer on the job for 15 years, pulled over a disproportionate amount of Latinos during traffic stops, the Los Angeles Times reported. He allegedly tried to conceal the fact that he’d so often targeted Hispanic drivers by misidentifying them as white on paperwork.
Smith may be the first LAPD officer found guilty of racial profiling, but he’s unlikely the only one engaging in the practice. “A 2008 study of LAPD data by a Yale researcher found blacks and Latinos were subjected to stops, frisks, searches and arrests at significantly higher rates than whites, regardless of whether they lived in high-crime neighborhoods,” the Times noted. Moreover, 250 allegations of racial profiling are made against officers annually.
East Haven Police Under Fire
News broke in January 2012 that federal investigators had charged police in East Haven, Conn., with obstruction of justice, excessive force, conspiracy and other crimes regarding their treatment of Latinos in the city. According to the New York Times, East Haven police officers, “stopped and detained people, particularly immigrants, without reason...sometimes slapping, hitting or kicking them when they were handcuffed, and once smashing a man's head into a wall.” They tried to cover up their behavior by targeting bystanders who witnessed and tried to document their illegal acts. They also allegedly tried to recover surveillance tapes from area business that capture their abuses on video.