On July 3rd of this year, one day before the tragic shooting of Alton Sterling mobilized civil rights activists across the country, a 19-year-old Latino resident of San José named Anthony Nuñez was shot dead by police outside of his home. According to family members, Nuñez was suffering from depression and had attempted to take his life with a firearm before police intervened. The next day, the California Highway Patrol shot and killed 18-year-old Pedro Villanueva as he sped away from plainclothes officers who were breaking up a street racing event in Orange County. He was unarmed.
These are just the two most recent Latino names to appear on The Guardian’s invaluable online resource The Counted, which documents every death in the US at the hands of law enforcement in 2015 and 2016 so far. Organized by age, state, gender, as well as ethnic background, The Counted gives us a comprehensive look into the United States’ tragic pattern of deaths at the hands of law enforcement – and a much clearer idea of how Latinos have been affected.
According to available data, Latinos make up 88 of the 574 people killed by law enforcement so far in 2016, at a rate of 1.59 per million residents. This is only slightly higher than the rate for white Americans, which stands at 1.42, and less than half that of Black and Native Americans, which clock in at 3.33 and 3.4, respectively. Totals from 2015 showed a similar pattern.
Still, these numbers only paint a partial picture, as states in the west show a much higher proportion of Latino deaths with respect to population than in the Midwest or Northeast. Numerous incidents in Texas, California, New Mexico, and Colorado reflect both their large Latino populations and significantly more aggressive policing tactics; while states like Illinois, New York, and New Jersey hardly register on the list with a rate of less than 0.3 Latino deaths per million.
Clicking through each blurb, we are confronted with details that run the gamut from hostage situations and prison breaks to much less clearcut cases of “threatening behavior.” In several instances, the official police report was contradicted by eyewitness testimony, while in far too many more, police were responding to situations of mental illness that spiraled tragically out of control.
So why are these cases being ignored by the mainstream media? The reasons are undoubtedly varied and complex, but a recent conversation between journalist Maria Hinojosa and Voto Latino president Maria Teresa Kumar pointed the way to a compelling explanation. “I think the media does a great job of wanting to silo who we are as Americans,” Kumar suggested at the #ElectionVoices event. “They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s the immigrant issue, that’s the African-American issue, that’s the Asian issue.’ No, it’s us.”
Indeed, the dominant media narrative has compartmentalized our generation’s civil rights movement into a series of seemingly unrelated and racially-specific issues — from immigration reform, to police accountability, to fair labor practices. Whether it’s an insidious divide-and-conquer tactic, or the unfortunate result of a marketing logic that carves us up according to limited demographic categories, these divisions ultimately serve to weaken the overall struggle against oppression in US society.
In the case of Anthony Nuñez and Pedro Villanueva, activists across California have taken up their cause to demand more police accountability in the unwarranted killing of Latinos, and have even garnered African American allies from the Black Lives Matter movement in their struggle. Yet many members of affected communities express frustration that our stories continue to be ignored in the mainstream media.
Thanks to resources like The Counted, we can take a deeper look into this phenomenon and understand the unique challenges we face as we present our case to the broader US public. It’s the least we can do to honor our Latino brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in senseless acts of police brutality.