Is the Pasco Police Shooting The 'Ferguson' For Latinos?

Feb 26, 2015
Originally published on February 26, 2015 9:38 am

Charles Herrmann, the attorney who represented the families of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin is now taking on the case of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an unarmed Mexican national who was shot and killed by police in Washington State.

Zambrano-Montes was allegedly throwing rocks at moving cars in a busy intersection. Police showed up, tried to stop him, then tazed him.

Zambrano-Montes ran across the intersection and shots were fired. He ran again, then turned to face police, more shots were fired, this time killing him. Police say he assaulted them with rocks several times during the incident.

The incident is under investigation. Kennewick Police Sargeant Ken Lattin, a spokesman for a task force investigating the shooting, said on Wednesday that a preliminary autopsy showed that Zambrano-Montes was hit by five to six rounds out of seventeen shot, none of which hit him in the back.

Herrman says an independent autopsy contradicts that. He says in fact, 2 bullets struck him in the back. The family is urging the U.S. Justice Department to take over the local investigation.

The shooting has sparked protests in Pasco and Seattle.

The small quiet farmtown of Pasco has seen unusual activity as hundreds have turned out to protest since Zambrano-Montes was killed by police earlier this month.

It is not the first confrontation between police and Latinos in the area, says David Cortinas, who has been reporting on the shooting for La Voz Hispanic News, Pasco's Spanish-language newspaper.

"One of the officers was involved already in a big lawsuit," he says. "He slammed a Hispanic woman onto the front end of a vehicle, and burnt her face."

That suit was settled out of court. Activists say something's got to give in a town that is over 50 percent Hispanic, but where less than a quarter of the officers are Latino.

In a statement, the Pasco police Department said the officers involved are on administrative leave and the shooting is under investigation.

Cortinas says while recent protests have been peaceful so far, but he believes that could change if there's a perception that justice wasn't served. Pasco could become a national focus for Latino rights, much like Ferguson was for African Americans.

But University of Southern California Professor Roberto Suro says While many African-American communities have a long standing history of tensions with the police, when it comes to Latinos there are some differences.

"Police violence has been an issue, but not with the same consistency and with the same level of sensitivity that we see in African American communities," he says.

Univision anchor Leon Krauze agrees that Ferguson and Pasco are two very different stories but the outrage is the same.

Pasco has a lot of 3rd and even 4th generation Mexican-American families, but it also has a population of undocumented seasonal workers who might hesitate to speak up, Krauze says.

"It's just a matter of a simple cost benefit analysis," he says. "Would you run the risk of deportation in order to pursue an abstract benefit."

Latinos are not responding to the shootings on a national scale partly because there is no strong unified voice among Latinos in the U.S., says Julio Ricardo Varela, the founder of the Latino Rebels blog.

"We, as the US Latino community as a whole, haven't even begun to have honest discussions about race, and class," he says. "And that's when we need to look each other in the eye and say, you know, we have our own issues here. We better start working together."

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Earlier this month, police in Pasco, Wash., shot and killed a man. Antonio Zambrano-Montes was throwing rocks at cars in a busy intersection. When the police arrived, they say they tried to use a Taser on him. They say Zambrano-Montes then threw rocks at them, and they responded by opening fire. A cell phone video shows Zambrano-Montes running across the street and turning towards police before they fire more shots. Investigators say 17 shots were fired in total. Now the attorney who represented the families of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Trayvon Martin in Florida has stepped into the case. NPR's Jasmine Garsd says the shooting is causing an outcry among some Latinos in Pasco.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hands up, don't shoot. Hands up, don't shoot. Hands up, don't shoot.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The small, quiet farm town of Pasco has seen unusual activity as hundreds have turned out to protest since Zambrano-Montes was killed by police earlier this month.

DAVID CORTINAS: I think the entire community is just fed up.

GARSD: David Cortinas has been reporting on the shooting for La Voz Hispanic News, Pasco's Spanish-language newspaper. He says it's not the first confrontation between police and Latinos in the area.

CORTINAS: One of the officers was involved already in a big lawsuit. He slammed a Hispanic woman onto the front end of his vehicle and burned her face.

GARSD: That suit was settled out of court. Activists say something's got to give in a town that is over 50 percent Hispanic, but where less than a quarter of the officers are Latino. In a statement, the Pasco Police Department said the officers involved are on administrative leave and the shooting is under investigation. Cortinas says recent protests have been peaceful so far. But he believes if there is no justice, that could change and that Pasco could become a national focus for Latino rights, much like Ferguson was for African-Americans. But University of Southern California Professor Roberto Suro says, while many African-American communities have a long-standing history of tensions with the police, when it comes to Latinos...

ROBERTO SURO: Police violence has certainly been an issue in some places at some times, but not with the same consistency and with the same level of sensitivity that we see in African-American communities.

GARSD: Univision anchor Leon Krauze agrees that Ferguson and Pasco are two very different stories. But...

LEON KRAUZE: It's not because the outrage isn't there. It is.

GARSD: Krauze says, while Pasco has a lot of third- and even fourth-generation Mexican-American families, it also has a population of undocumented seasonal workers who might hesitate to speak up.

KRAUZE: It's just a matter of a simple cost-benefit analysis. Would you run the risk of deportation in order to pursue what I think is still an abstract, quote, unquote, "benefit"?

GARSD: Julio Ricardo Varela has been watching how residents are reacting to the shooting. He's the founder of the blog Latino Rebels.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA: I think what's going on in Pasco, although it feels local, has such greater implications for how the Latino community begins to mature as they say.

GARSD: Varela says part of the lack of national response to the shooting is related to the lack of a strong, unified voice among Latinos in the U.S.

VARELA: We, as a U.S. Latino community, haven't even begin to accept, you know, have honest discussions about race and class. And that's where we kind of have to look at each other in the eye and say, you know, we have our own issues here, we better start working together.

GARSD: Varela thinks that conversation is starting to happen among younger Hispanics, and incidents like the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes might be the spark that lights the fire. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.