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Brown Lives Matter: the Quiet Struggle for Equality

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On July 3, 2016, 19 year-old Pedro Villanueva was gunned down by police in Fullerton, California. The New York Times reports that California Highway Patrol officers followed Villanueva’s red pickup truck in their unmarked vehicle for about 10 miles. They tried to pull him over, the authorities said, but he made a U-turn and drove in the direction of the officers, who opened fire.

“How would an innocent boy be killed like that?” David Sainz, Mr. Villanueva’s brother, said in a phone interview from the family’s Mexican restaurant in the San Fernando Valley. “He was such a good kid. He didn’t have to be shot.”

In 2015, a Latino man was gunned down in Pasco, Washington after throwing rocks at police officers. The sizable immigrant population there became disgruntled, and many believed it could turn into the next Fergusson.

Eric Rodriguez, vice president for public policy at the National Council of La Raza, stated,

“There are plenty of high-profile incidents across the country that for one reason or another don’t seem to get the same attention.”

“There’s sufficient amount of concern and outrage about what’s happening,” he added. “This tension at the community level, it’s palpable.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, over the last five years in L.A. County, coroner’s data show that Latinos, who make up about half of the county’s population, also represent about half the people killed by police.

Why, then, is the response so much different than in the Black community, where protestors mobilize on national television, and everyone seems to have an opinion on Black Lives Matter?

For one, many in the Hispanic community view immigration as a more pressing issue. Many do not speak out for fear of deportation.

Angelo Falcón, co-founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy, explained that,

“They interact with that whole system in a very different way because they have even fewer rights… You have a lot of Latinos who are living without papers, under the radar, who are abused by regular police as well.”

Additionally, Hispanic does not denote a race, but, rather, an ethnicity. Different groups of Hispanics have different priorities, depending on region, nationality and citizenship status.

There is also a difference in the way the churches of each respective demographic mobilize their congregation. Amin David, 82, former president of a Latino civil rights group, Los Amigos of Orange County, said he thinks black churches have played a large role in capturing attention for the Black Lives Matter movement. In Catholic congregations like David’s own, he said, priests don’t talk about police killing Latinos.

“I really applaud the African American churches,” David said. “They really know the buttons to press.”

When a shooting does happen, Latinos tend to have it culturally ingrained in them to leave the situation as it is. Luis Carrillo, an attorney who has represented Latino families in use-of-force cases, said that because of a history of oppression in Latin America and a streak of Catholic conservatism, many Latinos have a built-in wariness of police agencies and adhere to a “don’t rock the boat” mentality. That ‘mind-your-own business’ approach within the community can leave families of people killed by law enforcement feeling isolated.

Despite differences, many see police brutality against Blacks and Latinos as a parallel struggle. Some are calling for solidarity between the two movements.

In 2012, Genevieve Huizar’s 25-year-old son, Manuel Diaz, was fatally shot by the police in Anaheim, California. Since then, Ms. Huizar has traveled across California protesting police-involved shootings. She also helped found the Young Survivors Legacy Support Network, a group which organizes picnics and vigils for relatives who have lost loved ones.

“All these lives matter,” she said. “I believe it should be one movement to make the change for everybody.”

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