Why the Latino Community Must Stand Up for Eric Garner

A travesty. That is the only way to describe the no indictment ruling that came from the grand jury on the Eric Garner case. On the heels of the decisions in Ferguson this feels like yet another cold slap on the face in terms of the kind of justice people of color and particularly black men can expect from our judicial system. As Latinos it is our duty to support the African American community through this struggle and demand accountability and change.

While it is true that disadvantaged communities and people of color in general continue facing discrimination and racism on an ongoing basis, the fact is that the African American community and black men in particular are the primary targets of law-enforcement profiling and violence. The facts speaks for themselves: A ProPublica’s analysis of federally-collected data on fatal police shootings from 2010 through 2012 shows that young black men are 21 times more likely than their white peers to be killed by police. The 1,217 deadly police shootings captured in the federal data shows that blacks age 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million while 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

Latinos are no strangers to police violence and profiling either. Latinos are routinely profiled based on immigration status, skin color, accent and language. Latinos, along with Blacks, have been targets of the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” tactic. Federal and state law enforcement agencies have been accused of engaging in profiling of immigrant communities through federal programs such as the former Secure Communities program and “Show Me Your Papers” laws which have led to stops and detentions of people based on their accents or skin color. Finally, the military equipment we saw deployed in Ferguson has been used by law enforcement at the U.S./Mexico border and in cities and towns in Texas, California and Arizona. And Latino communities too have many examples of individuals dying at the hands of police from California, Oklahoma to New York City.

It is hard to fathom why the jury came to decision it did on the Garner case. There was video providing evidence of the encounter. The death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. The police officer used a chokehold, a practice banned by NYPD directives since 1993. What else does it take to issue an indictment?

While nothing can be done to bring Eric back to his family, there is a lot that can be done to initiate change. The Department of Justice announcement that it will initiate a full investigation is a welcomed one. In addition, all the officers responsible for Eric’s death should be held accountable, and the NYPD should end its discriminatory “broken windows” policing. Governor Cuomo should also veto Law S7801/A9853, so the police are not the only ones responsible for policing themselves. Moreover, we need: federal prosecutors who would initiate investigations of an unarmed assailant; more diversity in the prosecutors’ office; and a full scale review of police tactics and use of force policies.

The jury couldn’t even bring itself to issue a misdemeanor indictment even though a human being died at the hands of the police crying “I can’t breathe”. That is not justice. We must put an end to police brutality and abusive policing to ensure that all lives are protected equally, including the lives of African American men.

Vanessa Cárdenas is the Vice President of Progress 2050.