Tanzina: Protesters in Chicago there demanding justice for Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino who was shot and killed by a police officer in the city last month. The case gained national attention after the Chicago Police Department released body camera footage showing Toledo had his hands up before he was shot and killed. The video contradicted a statement previously put out by a prosecutor with the Cook County State Attorney's Office who claimed that the 13-year-old had been holding a gun when he was shot. Here's the Toledo family attorney, Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, speaking with reporters last week.
Adeena: All I know is that the officer is trained to not shoot an unarmed individual, not shoot an unarmed child. If he asked him to toss it and show his hands and the kid complies, then he shouldn't be shot.
Tanzina: Toledo's killing underscores the reality of police violence against Latinos in the United States. According to research by The Washington Post from 2015 to 2020, Latinos were the second-highest demographic killed by police after Black Americans. I'm Tanzina Vega and whether Adam Toledo's killing has the potential to galvanize Latinos in Chicago around issues of police brutality is where we start today on The Takeaway.
Tanzina: Joining me now is Edwardo Portillos, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Eddie, welcome back to the show.
Edwardo: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Tanzina: I want to ask you, what was your initial reaction to seeing the video of the killing of Adam Toledo, especially as someone who has studied police violence?
Edwardo: I think like a lot of people, and again, I have to extend my condolences to the family, it wasn't a surprise. I had seen these situations before, but I think what is the most surprising and what struck me, in this case, is that there was a video. We don't often have these videos. That's an important piece to this story. It wasn't surprising because we see it happening again and again in [unintelligible 00:02:23] communities throughout the Southwest of the United States, where young people like Adam, who should have an interaction with the police that shouldn't end in their death and unfortunately, in this situation, it has. It has been occurring time and time again.
Tanzina: Mayor Lightfoot has responded to the killings, but when you listen to what she has to say, is that what we usually hear from people in charge?
Edwardo: We hear from people in charge, often this doesn't have to do with race, that we have to respect the process, we have to let the investigation happen. We have to watch the video carefully. When this happens again and again, we can understand the frustration and the anger that we see in the community. The police will tell us that this had nothing to do with race. Officers who are involved in this situation, officers who have interactions with kids daily in the community, will say that this had nothing to do with race. In some of the research that I've done, I think that it has to do with race more than what we're hearing from the police officers.
Especially in these neighborhoods like Little Village, a largely traditional Mexican neighborhood where I've done a lot of my research in Arizona, in California. It's in these neighborhoods where we see these concerns with the police. They'll say, "Race doesn't matter," but I think it does in ways that people don't recognize. Police officers, with the research that I've done, will talk about these areas as war zones, as places that should be avoided, as places that I shouldn't walk alone when I was doing my own research in Arizona. They even offered me protection as I was doing my research there, but I had been in that community previously, walked the neighborhoods, had been knocking on the apartments, the same ones they told me not to knock on. I didn't have that fear that they talked about.
I think that's part of the issue, is that we need to recognize, our leaders need to recognize, people in our society need to recognize the way in which race plays out in ways that we often don't recognize. That creates these images of kids that are bad, that we criminalize them, that we should lock them up.
Tanzina: Eddie, we spoke earlier, I spoke to Sergeant Johnny Nunez, who's the founder and president of the Global Alliance of Hispanic Law Enforcement Professionals, among other titles. He said to me straight out that he said officers don't see color. He's a Latino officer. You said a lot of cops will say, "This has nothing to do with race." What do you assess? I definitely push back on him on that, but I'm just curious about your interpretation of one of the top Latino cops in this country saying that officers don't see color.
Edwardo: I truly believe that officers think that. They're trained to react to the situation, they're trained that they want to go home, they're trained that they want to be safe, they want to take care of the community. They're not trained to talk about how race operates in our society. They will have some bias training, some implicit bias kinds of things that we'll see, but when I talked to officers, they really didn't enjoy those, they tried to avoid those trainings.
Tanzina: I can see a rank and file officer trying to avoid that, but this is someone who's really at the top of a lot of his colleagues. I was somewhat concerned about that rhetoric.
Edwardo: That is concerning, but it's not surprising because this is the view that many police officers have. They really believe that race has nothing to do with any of the shootings. That's how they've been trained. They interact daily with other officers and they don't see race playing out. Whereas, as an outsider coming in, I do see the subtle ways, for example, racial joking was common in the police department that I was studying. When I would ask officers about it, they would just say, "Hey, you know what? That's just how we address stress, we see the worst of the worst day in and day out. This racial joking is nothing."
We see this again and again, some officers with their Facebook posts, and those kinds of things. The racist language that we'll hear sometimes broadcast on the radio frequencies. I see it as race, but officers truly believe that this has nothing to do. In this case, a high-ranking police official, it's not surprising.
Tanzina: Eddie, let's talk a little bit about how Latino communities are policed in general, you've studied these interactions throughout your career. This took place in a neighborhood like Little Village in Chicago, which is majority Latino. As we stated at the top of the segment, Latinos are only second to Black Americans in terms of having these types of interactions with police. What is the relationship like between Latino communities, particularly if they're poor or working-class, and police in this country?
Edwardo: Those are the types of communities, like Little Village, that I studied time and time again. It started in Arizona with my dissertation research and it's continued on to a present study that I'm doing in Fresno with my colleagues. What you'll see in these communities, and in this most recent study that I carried out, my colleagues and I, in Fresno, California, it's been with a group of youth who will come to the attention of law enforcement, youth who are involved in gangs, youth who are involved in juvenile delinquent activities.
When we'll ask them, "Why is it that you're involved in criminal activities? What is it like to be policed every day?" It's a sense of frustration that I've talked about earlier, a sense of anger because they are constantly stopped. You have some kids who are trying to live a good life, they have college aspirations, some of them may want to be police officers. They'll have more positive interactions and views of the police, but some of those kids will also have negative interactions with the police just because of the way in which the aggressive policing will operate in these communities.
It's proactive, it's looking for criminal activity before it happens. The youth would talk about this happening in their lives by being stopped, by being questioned as they were walking through the neighborhood, that it wasn't their experience only, but it was their friends' experiences. They would talk about these experiences of where the officers would try to egg them on sometimes, they would make fun of them, they would mock them, they would demean them. The youth would readily recognize, "You know what? We're not doing things that we should, we were probably involved in drugs, I might have been drinking alcohol."
They will readily admit that they're doing things that they weren't, but at this age kids don't always make the right decisions, but it doesn't have to end in their death or, in the cases that I've looked at, of experiencing police violence.
Tanzina: We should also be clear that it's not always children or young people who are involved in nefarious activities who have negative interactions with the police.
Edwardo: Exactly. It's those good kids in the neighborhood. It's kids like my sons, my nephews, our relatives who are growing up in these communities, who are trying to be good kids, that have bad experiences with the police. You are exactly right.
Tanzina: Now, here's an interesting tension point, if you will. Despite the disparities in how Black and Latino people are often stopped by the police and in some cases killed by the police, Latinos still say that they have at least some confidence in the police. In a PEW poll from June 2020, 74% of Latinos said they had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the ability of a police officer to work on behalf of the public that's compared to 56% of Black Americans who said they felt the same way. How do we explain that disparity on the fact that there are Latinos who at least three quarters of the population that PEW surveyed, who said they have some confidence in police, and yet they are the second largest group being affected by these types of negative police interactions?
Edwardo: I think there's a couple of ways that we explain this. I begin first with this notion that Tracy Meares talks about, the dual frustration. She talked about a dual frustration in African-American communities where they were frustrated with drugs on the one hand but they were also frustrated with the treatment that they received by the criminal justice system, the courts and law enforcement specifically. I believe that Latinx community experiences, there's still frustration. They're frustrated with gangs, they're frustrated with drugs, they're frustrated with the violence and the high crime rates in their community.
Tanzina: What I'm wondering, Eddie, is whether or not you see this as a moment. I'm also thinking about the killings of Shawn Monterosa for example, Antonio Valanzuela, for example, other names of Latinos who've been killed by police. Is this a moment for Latinos to galvanize around police brutality across the country?
Edwardo: I'm hopeful that it is, that this is a moment where we finally recognize that these issues are prevalent in the Latinx community. This isn't the first shooting, and you've given a list of a number of people that have been killed from the Latinx community. That list is long. I could think back when I started doing this research in Arizona and Julio Valerio in Arizona. His parents called for help,, asking for assistance and he ended up being killed by the police. He had a knife in an alley and they pepper sprayed him, he raised his hands to his eyes, assuming to wipe away the pepper spray. The police saw that and see what was raising his hand to throw the knife and they shot him, they shot him multiple times.
This isn't new. I talk about it and others talk about it as being historical, as being state sanctioned violence and a form of racialized social control that historically we've seen in the Latinx community since the Mexican American war and the treaty of Guadalupe, we've seen this again and again, in the Southwest, the Texas Rangers and other police officials trying to provide what Miranda calls a double justice. On the one hand, whites received very prevalent good treatment by the criminal justice system, whereas Latinx don't and they experience abuses by the criminal justice system.
Ed Escobar has talked about this for a number of years, I'm doing research in the 1900s and 1945 with the Latinx community. We saw this in the 1970s with the Chicano movement. Sadly this isn't new. There's a very long list, and it's about state sanctioned violence and racialized social control and the Latinx community.
Tanzina: You mentioned a number of people I even, I remember the death of Anthony Baez in 1994 in New York City. That was really another question of asphyxiation and improper use of a choke hold. You're right, this is something that has existed for decades. I'm wondering, one of the other things that Sergeant Nunez, when we spoke to him earlier, he said that there really aren't any racial issues here and he pointed to the NYPD and said how racially diverse our own police corps is here in New York City. While that may be true, looking back to data, for example, from stop question and frisk, still showed that New Yorkers of color, largely Black and Latino New Yorkers, were stopped and frisked at higher rates than whites were.
Can we clearly say that this is something, is diversifying the police force actually going to change this?
Edwardo: That's been a question that's been around for a couple of decades, whether diversifying the police department would matter.
Tanzina: Eddie. Before you answer that, I will say, and of course we know there's also calls to just defund the police and abolish the system entirely.
Edwardo: Exactly. This question about diversifying the police first, there've been attempts at it, and we've seen this in LA, in Los Angeles, where a large percentage of the officers there are from the Latinx community, are a part of the Latinx community. We still see people of color shot and killed by the police and stopped and searched at disproportionate rates. I think it matters in where we're pulling these individuals from. At least with my own research, I looked at officer differences by race in terms of how they perceive the community and those Latinx officers who weren't a part of that community tended to identify the communities in ways that were similar to whites, where they saw it as a war zone, as they saw it as dangerous.
Those individuals who have grown up in that community, who had family in that community, who had experiences in that community growing up, they tended to have a more positive outlook. I think we need more of that, people from the communities to police their own. It's difficult though. I've heard this from police departments where they try to recruit, but often they can't recruit young people from those neighborhoods. I think that's partly because of the fear that people have of the police but I think it's also partly that people want their kids not to always go to a dangerous career if you can be an engineer, if you can be a doctor.
Tanzina: Eddie, we've got just one minute left to go. I'm just thinking, are calls for defunding the police growing among Latinos, because there are people who say this system cannot be fixed, it must be abolished entirely? Got a minute left.
Edwardo: To address that question, that's tough. We need police officers. I've seen police officers within my own community respond and be effective. We need some policing to protect our communities, but we need a better policing than what we have now. It may be allocating funds in different ways, so we're utilizing more respectful restorative justice kinds of approaches, rather than always using these aggressive approaches that create distress within the community.
Tanzina: Edwardo Portillos is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Eddie, thanks so much for joining us.
Edwardo: Thank you for having me.
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