BY RODOLFO ESPINO
There are many topics that can be discussed regarding the recent uprisings surrounding a grand jury’s decision in St. Louis County, Missouri. I will simply focus on the problematic issues related to policing our communities, policing our borders, and the intersection of the two.
Prior to the news of the grand jury’s decision last week, much of the media narrative regarding race and politics focused on President Obama’s executive directives that will temporarily protect millions of individuals from deportation. One of those directives will end a policy known as “Secure Communities,” which has allowed local law enforcement agencies to police our border within our communities.
The justification for “Secure Communities” has been that local law enforcement agencies are often the ones most likely to interact with undocumented immigrants and, therefore, should be granted access to federal government data about an individual’s legal status in the United States. The argument against this policy is that it is too broad and has engendered a strong level of mistrust between Latinos and law enforcement agencies.
It is worth noting that the partnership of the Border Patrol with the LAPD in the 1992 uprisings was a violation of the LAPD's own directive issued in 1979 that prohibited the LAPD from participating in immigration enforcement due to concern over the strong levels of distrust it created between LAPD officers and Latinos.
How are the events in Ferguson and Obama’s executive directives related? We need only go back to the Los Angeles uprisings in April 1992 to be reminded of how the policing of African American communities can also sweep up Latinos. The civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992 was sparked by the decision of a jury in Ventura County, California to acquit four police officers of the videotaped beating of Rodney King – like Michael Brown – an unarmed black man. The week long period of violence in Los Angeles saw the declaration of curfew ordinances and the mobilization of National Guard, Army, and Marine units into the heart of Los Angeles – some of which were stationed in Los Angeles months after the violence ended.
While the majority of the Los Angeles uprisings were confined to South Central Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department and Border Patrol made a heavy police presence in the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles (a majority Latino immigrant area slightly north of South Central). Border Patrol agents rode along with LAPD officers ensuring that the plurality (37 percent) of the individuals arrested during the unrest were Latino resulting in the deportation of approximately 700 immigrants. It is worth noting that the partnership of the Border Patrol with the LAPD in the 1992 uprisings was a violation of the LAPD’s own directive issued in 1979 that prohibited the LAPD from participating in immigration enforcement due to concern over the strong levels of distrust it created between LAPD officers and Latinos.
While 20 years removed from the Los Angeles uprisings, the current events in Ferguson, Missouri remind us of the continued need for dialogue between police agencies and communities of color; and how easily the rhetoric surrounding the need to militarize the United States-Mexico border can also spill over into justifying the authorization of local law enforcement agencies to engage in immigration enforcement, such as Arizona’s SB1070, which allows local law enforcement agents the discretion to question any person’s immigration status. Instead of seeing these two types of enforcement as distinct, it would be helpful to analyze the ways that they are inter-related, either directly or indirectly.
Rodolfo Espino is an Associate Professor in the School of Politics & Global Studies at Arizona State University. His research focuses on political behavior, race, and Congress. Thanks to Erica Ocegueda and Lisa Magaña at Arizona State University for their assistance in producing this post.