After an 80-mile chase, the blows to the body began almost immediately. The Riverside, CA, sheriffs repeatedly beat a defenseless Mexican citizen on the side of a freeway in Los Angeles County. The blows continued even after the man was down. Then, the same officer turned his riot stick on a woman passenger. She was dragged from the truck.
Another deputy joined in. She was then lifted by the hair, her face bashed against the hood of the truck — and then slammed to the ground. A few yards away, a deputy pummeled three Mexican citizens, then rammed one of them headfirst into the shoulder of the road.
All this was caught live on videotape in broad daylight by a television news crew hovering in a helicopter. The sheriff’s department, reacting to public pressure, placed two of the deputies caught in the act on administrative leave, with pay.
The culprit in the incident, police officials say, is the “high-speed pursuit syndrome.” `Nonsense’
“Nonsense,” says Gloria Romero, psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles. By blaming the incident on adrenaline, “It becomes a sociobiological explanation. I don’t buy it. The officers are trained,” says Romero. “There’s no reason to believe that every pursuit leads to abuse.”
Romero, who is the former chair of the Hispanic advisory council to the Los Angeles Police Commission and a co-founder of the Coalition for (L.A.) Sheriff’s Accountability, says she believes the explanation for the abuse is “attitude.”
“The issue is one of attitude, not adrenaline.” Excessive use of force is not legally sanctioned anywhere, says Romero. “It is not tolerated. That’s why we have training.” Brutality, says Romero, occurs when an officer believes the “suspect” has defied an officer and the combination of anger and attitude result in abuse.
Sanctioning From the Top
But what allows the officer to violate the law is a sanctioning from the top; police continue to believe it’s acceptable to engage in brutality, Romero says. To end police abuse, she says, there has to be a clear message from the top: “If you beat somebody, you go to jail.” However, police organizations still wink at brutality. “We allow officers to be above the law,” says Romero.
She feels anti-immigrant hysteria has given these officers the go-ahead to beat on Mexican citizens. “The officers reduced the Mexican citizens to `illegals.'” Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, notes that police brutality is undeniably a weapon used primarily against Black and brown people and people on the low end of the economic scale. “They [law enforcement officers] do this because they know they can get away with it.”
Anger and Bigotry
He believes officers engage in brutality because of a combination of anger and bigotry. Additionally, officers also tend not to discriminate between poor and middle-class people of color. “Your degrees may not protect you from bigotry.” Part of the reason officers tend to abuse people of color is because they believe that minority men are a threat, says Poussaint.
“They [officers] have the attitude that `I have to blow them away before they blow me away.'” Because of this “fear factor,” when officers shoot someone who puts a hand in their jacket, the courts are often sympathetic, he says. “In the Riverside case, it is clear that the officers were not in fear for their lives,” says Poussaint.
What he finds incredible is that because of the politically whipped-up anti-immigrant hysteria, “some people feel that it’s good that the police beat them — that they deserved it.” That attitude, says Poussaint, is due to ignorance, hatred and a basic misunderstanding of our laws. Whether a crime has been committed or not, “Their [police] role is not to beat and punish people. That’s up to the courts.”
He also notes that many people of color do not complain about police abuse because, historically, they know nothing will come of it. However, Poussaint says, “That is not a healthy response. You have to fight back and complain.”
Poussaint says that sensitivity training of police officers is a good first step but doesn’t solve the problem. Part of the solution is integrating departments. “If you have Blacks or Mexicans on, police forces, it tends to tone down the abuse, but not completely. Real changes only occur when they come from top.”
Target of Scorn Dehumanized
Aida Hurtado, a psychology professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz, agrees that brutality against and immigrants is attributable constant racist and anti-immigrant hysteria fomented by opportunistic politicians.
Psychologists agree that such brutality occurs because of a systematic dehumanization of the tar et population. If an authority figure — such as California Gov. and failed presidential political candidate Pete Wilson (R) — wages WON, against immigrants, the majority population, including law enforcement officers, begin to view the beatings as legitimate, says Hurtado.
The deputies viewed the Mexican as “invaders,” says Hurtado, and, acted as if they were following rules of not rules of law. “They’re taught to believe that the `enemy’ are not human beings.
“In war, any level of aggression, justified,” says Hurtado In this case, the brutality occurred in broad daylight, with the full knowledge that they were being filmed. But because undocumented immigrants are not viewed as human beings, the officers didn’t care — and felt justified, she adds. “We’re a country of human rights and human rights are universal. Yet, we we [society] are equating being human with being a U.S. citizen.” One point of interest about the videotaped violence is that the officers made no gender distinction: “That’s because the officers did not see them as human beings,” says Hurtado.
Violent Early Years
Antonio Rios-Bustamante, professor of history and Mexican American studies at the University of Arizona, says that violence against Mexicans is not unusual and, in fact, can be traced to before the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
The period after the war is perhaps: the most violent period involving Mexican cans in the United States, says, Rios-Bustamante. While the Treaty of Guadalupe, which ended the war, protected the lands of the native Mexican population in the U.S.-acquired territories, it did not end violence and land theft. Texas Rangers were virtually an anti-Mexican law enforcement agency and white vigilantes were generally “told to capture and kill any Mexican on sight.”
It is that culture of violence that law enforcement has inherited, says Rios-Bustamente. Much of that violence is predicated on the notion that Mexicans are violent. But that is false, he says. “Mexicans generally commit less crimes than other Populations.”
Despite this, Rios-Bustamente feels the criminalization of Black and brown youth causes the public to fear them, thus, enabling law enforcement officers to brutalize them and send them to prison.
Ed Escobar, director of Chicana and Chicano studies at Arizona State University, says that, coming on the heels of Pat Buchanan’s blatantly racist campaign in which fie referred to Mexicans as “Jose,” the beatings were not surprising.
Unknown to most people is that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants come into the country legally and public’s overstay their visas. Yet the pub image is that they are all Mexican and they, all come in through the Southern border, says Escobar. Also unknown to most people is that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has historically been very anti-Mexican. When African Americans moved into Los Angeles in large numbers after World War II, the officers transferred their anti-Mexican attitudes onto the Black population, he says.
Escobar, author of the forthcoming “Race and Criminal Justice: Relationship Between the Mexican-American Community and the LAPD, 1900-1945.” “At the turn of the century, the LAPD viewed Mexicans as a criminally inclined racial group that was bound to commit crimes. Because of this, they engaged in `curbside justice.’ It was a war on crime mentality,” he says.
Edward Roybal, who ran for the Los Angeles City Council in the 1940s — the first Chicano in this century to run for that office — ran on the issue of police brutality, notes Escobar. Escobar acknowledges that, “Brutality in the 19th century was worse and only became less violent as Mexicans lost power … and as long as they stayed in their barrios or in the fields … as long as they didn’t demand their rights and as long as they behaved themselves.”
John Matlock, assistant vice provost and director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives at the University of Michigan, says that he identifies with the situation in Southern California. Matlock says that while on his way to judge a slam-dunk contest at the university, he was thrown to the ground by campus officers who thought lie was sneaking into the building. When they learned lie was an administrator, they asked him why he didn’t identify himself. The incident is now under investigation.
Implicit in their question was the assumption that if he hadn’t been an administrator, the alleged brutality would have been justified. Says Matlock: “No law enforcement officer has the right to attack and assault anyone at any time.”
Chicano/Latino students around the country have been appalled by the beating in Riverside and have taken part in large protests and demonstrations nationwide. Students from Southern California, led by Angel Cervantes and the Four Winds student movement, recently held a 140-mile march from Temecula, CA, to the Mexican border, to protest the beatings.
At Wellesley College (MA), Matilde Sanchez, a student from Los Angeles, says that the beatings show that people need “to eradicate racist policies and punish those criminals who hide Linder suits or uniforms which are supposed to make us believe that they are here to serve and protect us.”
RELATED ARTICLE: We should treat Brutal Officers As Criminals and Appoint Special Counsels to Prosecute Watching the video of the Riverside, CA, sheriff’s officers beating on defenseless individuals, it’s difficult to contain the anger.
Those beaten were not illegal aliens, but human beings. in fact, their legal status is irrelevant. The beatings clearly show what many of us have been saying for many years; that as far as law enforcement is concerned, Black and brown people are considered less than subhuman.pp If not for the video, the police reports would have read that a bunch of illegal alien criminals had assaulted some law-abiding officers. And despite the video, we still treat the victims as criminals and the criminals as victims. Most people ask how this is possible.
If the situation had been reversed — if Black or brown people had assaulted the officers — they would have been arrested on the spot and held without bail. They, of course, would most likely have been beaten by other officers, if not killed. In this case, for viciously beating human beings, the officers are, in effect, on a paid vacation in their current “suspended with pay” status.
What does this tell us? Simply put: The life of a brown or Black person is not worth the same as white police officers. We’ve always known this. And the world witnessed it with the showing of the Rodney King-beating video. Yet, nothing changes Politicians, Media Culpable I maintain that this dehumanization of Latinos and African Americans is not restricted to law enforcement officers.
For the past few years, politicians such as Gov. Pete Wilson (R-CA), (Pat) Buchanan, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Sen. Bob Dole (RKS) have been busy blaming all of the country’s problems on immigrants. And even though only one-quarter of undocumented immigrants enter through the southern border, the term “illegal aliens” has become synonymous with Mexicans and Central Americans. When speaking of the complex issue of international immigration, the politicians don’t factor human beings into the equation — only “illegal aliens.” And in this context, all Latinos are suspect and all Latinos have become, in the collective mind of a programmed population, “subhuman.”
In this incident, before we indict the officers, let’s indict the politicians who have made this behavior acceptable, and the media for perpetuating the false belief that violating the law somehow grants officers permission to conduct “curbside justice.”
Finally, let’s consider appointing special or independent counsels to investigate and prosecute police brutality cases as hate crimes; law enforcement agencies and district attorneys have already proven their inability to do so — and statistics clearly show that it is Black and brown people who suffer the brunt of this abuse.
Roberto Rodriguez, a senior writer for Black Issues, also writes a nationally syndicated column. In 19 79, he was assaulted and badly beaten by Los Angeles County sheriff’s officers. In 1986, he won a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department. He has written two books on police brutality, “Assault With a Deadly Weapon” and “On the Wrong Side of the Law,” to be published in 1997 by Bilingual Review Press.
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