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Despite Spotlight On Police Shootings, Incidents With Latinos Often Forgotten


Repeatedly in recent years, videos of deadly encounters with police have triggered massive outrage and protest. But there are exceptions. Take the video of a police stop in the city of Gardena, Calif., in 2013 - three Latino men and their bikes on the sidewalk.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Get your hands up.

RATH: The men hold their hands in the air, but when one of them fidgets with his baseball cap...


RATH: Police open fire. Two of the men fall to the ground. One of them later dies. All of the men were unarmed. Since the Los Angeles Times posted the video on YouTube, it has received nearly a million views. The video generated some media attention.

NICOLE SANTA CRUZ: But it's not like people were marching in the streets about this and at the City Council meeting that night. Only one person spoke about it during public comment.

RATH: That's Los Angeles Times homicide reporter Nicole Santa Cruz. She says that while attention to police shootings of African-Americans have dominated the media, incidents involving Latinos, in particular, have received much less attention, like the police shooting of Oscar Ramirez Jr., who was killed last fall in South LA.

CRUZ: Well, in the moments leading up to the shooting, a 12-year-old student from a nearby school had told her mother that she had seen two men armed with a knife and a handgun. Oscar Ramirez Jr. happened to match that suspect description, and when authorities tried to question him, they said that he fled. And deputies said that he wasn't complying with orders and moved his arm in a threatening manner. It looks like four or five bullets struck him in the back.

RATH: But Oscar Ramirez Jr. was not armed.

CRUZ: He was later found to be unarmed, yes.

RATH: Now, the details of this shooting were similar to some other prominent cases involving African-American men. Can you talk about the reaction, though, in the community there and in the media?

CRUZ: So yeah. I spoke with Chris Ramirez, which was - is Oscar's brother, and he kind of told me that, you know, he was holding vigils and trying to get attention for the shooting death of his brother and that, you know, it just never gained traction. He was outside of the Paramount Sheriff's Station, trying to get people to kind of rout for his cause, and overwhelmingly, he heard that they didn't want to get involved, you know? They had sympathy but didn't really want to make it a big issue.

RATH: Now, in terms of the actual numbers in Los Angeles County, how do police shootings of Latinos compare with other groups?

CRUZ: Well, over the past five years in LA County, coroner's data show that Latinos, who make up about half of the county's population, also represent about half of the people killed by police. So far this year, 23 people have been fatally shot by law enforcement in the county, and 14 of those were Latino.

RATH: And then how does that compare with African-American numbers? Are they - those are more disproportionate?

CRUZ: So African-Americans only make up about 9 percent of the population in LA County. But since 2000, on average, they've represented about 26 percent of those killed by police.

RATH: And you also write that there's a kind of a don't-rock-the-boat mentality in some of the Latino community. Could you explain that?

CRUZ: Yeah. There's this kind of - you know, go along with the flow. Don't rock the boat. You know, you don't want to speak up. I think it could be attributed to several factors. In some of these communities, there's still people who are undocumented, and they kind of want to stay under the radar. There were some people that we spoke with who brought up the fact that African-American churches really play more of a role in activism in that community. In Catholic churches that are in the Latino community, it's more focused on immigration rather than, you know, police-involved shootings or even tension with the police.

RATH: You've been digging into this topic which hasn't really gotten that much media attention. What's been the biggest surprise for you in terms of reporting out this story?

CRUZ: I don't know if I would say surprise, but in the case of Chris Ramirez, you know, just because people aren't paying attention to, you know, the death of his brother, doesn't mean that his grief is any less profound.

RATH: Nicole Santa Cruz is a reporter with the LA Times. Nicole, thank you.

CRUZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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