Joaquin Castro Calls Police Violence A Major, If Underreported, Problem For Latinos

Jun 28, 2020
Originally published on June 28, 2020 3:05 pm

The deaths of 27-year-old Carlos Ingram-Lopez in Tucson and 18-year old Andres Guardado in Los Angeles have reignited calls to not only end incidents of police brutality against Black people, but also those against Latinx people.

Ingram-Lopez died in April calling out for his grandmother while he was handcuffed and kept face-down by officers for some 12 minutes. Guardado ran from two police officers who shot him six times near the auto repair shop where he worked earlier this month.

"It's not an issue that's associated with Latinos in the same way that it's associated with African American men in particular, but it has been a real problem for the Latino community throughout the country, particularly in inner city neighborhoods of folks being profiled, folks being killed over the years," said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) in an interview Sunday with NPR's Weekend Edition.

According to research by the Washington Post, since 2015 Latinx people have been the second-highest demographic killed by police, after Black Americans. But their stories have not received as much national attention.

Castro said he hopes the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, could help keep not only Black and Latinx people safe, but "all Americans from being abused by police." The legislation bans the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug-related cases, and would lower legal standards to pursue criminal and civil penalties against police officers. It now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to face pushback from Republicans.

"It's going to take a lot of courage for things to change," Castro said. "And it's going to take courage from politicians at every level of government to do it."

Collective action will be necessary, he said, because police reform is not "just a federal problem."

"There are local collective bargaining agreements that need to be, I think, rewritten so that police can no longer collectively bargain on issues of accountability and discipline and conduct," Castro said. "Because that is what has allowed a lot of officers who are preying on the public to stay on the police force."

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, police unions have come under growing criticism for their role in shielding officers from punishment for incidents of brutality. Data shows that there is a link between police use of force and the fact that unions can make it difficult to prosecute officers for wrongful killings. One review in the journal Police Practice and Research says the impact of police unions have a "negative effect, particularly on innovation, accountability, and police — community relations."

"You'll notice the police unions who protect them never admit when an officer is wrong, and that's a fundamental problem in this country," according to Castro.

At the same time, Castro said he doesn't think the choice is "between the people and law enforcement. I think that law enforcement works for the people and that's why we have to get it right."

"Officers are at both times life-saving and also life-threatening for folks," Castro said. "Policing is not a marketplace. You can't choose another police force to take care of you or to watch over your neighborhood, and so it's inescapable for folks. And too often, there has been systemic racism and brutality that both African American and Latino communities have had to deal with."

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Carlos Ingram-Lopez - he was a 27-year-old cooking school graduate who was held facedown for 12 minutes by police in Tucson, Ariz. He said he couldn't breathe and begged for his grandmother before going into cardiac arrest. He died in April, but the police chief offered to resign this past week after the bodycam footage was released. Protesters in Los Angeles have been seeking answers as well this past week in the death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was shot by police.

As the country grapples with police brutality against African Americans, Latinos have also been disproportionately affected by police violence, especially in places with large Hispanic populations. Democratic Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and he joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me start off by asking you as someone who grew up in neighborhoods you say were written off as, quote, "bad," what is the relationship between Latinos and police?

CASTRO: It's actually an ironic one and in ways an oxymoron because officers are at times lifesaving and also life-threatening for folks. And policing in the United States, especially for minority communities, is inescapable. You know, policing is not a marketplace. You can't choose another police force to take care of you or to watch over your neighborhood. And so it's inescapable for folks. And too often, there has been systemic racism and brutality that both African American and Latino communities have had to deal with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There have been several recent shootings of young Latino men and other killings that are now receiving attention. But for the most part, they don't stir the same widespread outrage. Why do you think that is?

CASTRO: It's hard for me to say, exactly. You're right. I mean, it's not an issue that's associated with Latinos in the same way that it's associated with African American men in particular. But it has been a real problem for the Latino community throughout the country, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods, of folks getting profiled, folks being killed over the years but also suffering either physical or emotional and mental damage that people carry with them for a long time. And so the Justice in Policing Act that the House of Representatives just passed is going to be something that will help, of course, the African American community, the Latino community, but also protect all Americans from being abused by the police.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. The House, in fact, did approve, as you mentioned, the police reform legislation ending chokeholds and no-knock warrants in drug cases. Senate Republicans introduced a weaker version of that bill. The measure is now stalled. Is reform with real teeth possible?

CASTRO: I believe so, you know? But it's going to take a lot of courage for things to change, and it's going to take courage from politicians at every level of government to do it. This isn't just a federal problem. Certainly, the federal government can help. But there are also state laws that are very police-friendly. There are local collective bargaining agreements that need to be, I think, rewritten so that police can no longer collectively bargain on issues of accountability and discipline and conduct because that is what has allowed a lot of officers who are preying on the public to stay on the police force. And you'll notice the police unions who protect them never admit when an officer is wrong, and that's a fundamental problem in this country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The lone Black Republican senator, Tim Scott, though, complained that it seems to have come down to either being for law enforcement or for communities of color. Does he have a point?

CASTRO: I don't think so. No, I don't think so. You know, I wrote an op-ed recently in the San Antonio Express-News, my hometown newspaper. And I said that as somebody who grew up in the inner city, somebody who grew up in a part of town where you did have more crime than in other parts of town, a place that's written off as a bad neighborhood, I think there's nobody that appreciates good law enforcement that keeps people safe more than people that live in areas where crime is higher. So I don't see it as a choice between the people and law enforcement. I think that law enforcement works for the people, and that's why we have to get it right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congressman Joaquin Castro represents the 20th Congressional District of Texas.

Thank you very much.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.