Police-involved shootings of Latinos largely ignored by national media, activists say

Despite the anger felt around the country over recent police shootings of African-Americans in a Minneapolis suburb and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the deaths of five Latinos in the last two weeks – also killed by police officers – have garnered little attention.

Melissa Ventura in Yuma, Arizona, Raul Saavedra-Vargas in Reno, Nevada, as well as three people in California – Anthony Nuñez in San Jose, Pedro Villanueva in Fullerton and Vinson Lee Ramos in Bell – were all shot and killed by police recently.

In Los Angeles County, data from the coroner’s office shows that Latinos, who make up roughly half of the area’s population, comprise more than half of those killed by cops over the last five years. Of the 23 people fatally shot by police in L.A. County in 2016, 14 were Latino.

“We clearly need to have a conversation about policing," María Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, a civic media organization co-founded by the actress Rosario Dawson, told Fox News Latino. "It’s not about owning the narrative. It’s not us against them. We don’t hear about the many Latinos killed by police because, as a country, we’re used to binary [black-and-white] story lines. We need to prepare for how diverse we are as a nation.”

Luis Carrillo, an attorney who has represented several Latino families in use-of-force cases in L.A., told FNL he believes that the majority of cases aren’t covered as widely by the media because many of the friends and family of the victims are undocumented, and they’re worried about participating in protests or challenging police – which could lead to deportation.

“Other factors are the traditions of conservatism in the Latino community, and not wanting to challenge authority,” Carrillo said. “Particularly people fleeing from oppressive governments – they’re afraid to challenge this government.”

He said the African-American community has had a long history of protesting unjust conditions.

“It’s in the DNA of the community, and I congratulate, and I wish my community was as vociferous as my brothers and sisters in the black community," he said.

Gloria Hernandez, a California organizer against police brutality, told TeleSur that she’s been collecting and creating a database of police killings in Fresno, where the population is 50 percent Hispanic. She says she’s counted that from 2000 to 2014, more than 80 percent of victims were Latino.

In the case of Ramos, 36, three officers in Bell, California, in L.A. County, were called on a domestic abuse incident. Ramos was allegedly threatening them a knife, which he refused to put down, so officers opened fire, as reported by KABC.

Ventura, 24, was shot and killed by two Yuma County, Arizona, Sheriff's Deputies responding to a domestic abuse call. Deputies allege the mother of three opened the door and started attacking them. Both deputies shot her, and she died hours later.

Nuñez, 18, was shot by two police officers in San Jose, California. He was reportedly suicidal and had already fired a gun at his head. According to reports, the police approached the teen, asked him to give up his weapon, when he pointed the gun first at himself and then at the cops. They opened fire and died an hour later.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Villanueva, 19, was killed by the California Highway Patrol officers as part of an illegal street racing sting. The CHP officers were driving an unmarked car when they confronted the unarmed teen. Villanueva sped off in his truck and was cornered in a cul-de-sac by the officers. They shot him while he was driving toward the officers.

A high school classmate of Villanueva's, Mohammad Walid, told the Times that the police account didn’t match with what he knew about his friend. “Everything he did made me want to do better myself,” Walid said of Villanueva, a soccer enthusiast.

Saavedra-Vargas, 24, was shot and killed in Reno, Nevada. According to reports, officers attempted to initiate a traffic stop because he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

Saavdra-Vargas continued without stopping and struck a vehicle with two passengers inside. He drove away and eventually encountered another Reno police officer who fired on his minivan. He was declared dead at the hospital.

Moving forward, attorney Carrillo says that the only way to change the system and put cases like these on the media map is for elected officials to get involved and demand to be heard.

“Generally speaking, Latino politicians don’t have the same streak of courage as black leaders” Carrillo told FNL. "We need them to take on these issues and challenge authority, especially when Latinos get shot in the back or are unarmed.”

In an atmosphere as politically charged as the current political one, Voto Latino's Kumar says Latinos need to get out and vote and be a catalyst for change.

“It’s time for the Latino community to double-down and register to vote. We have as much to gain in the game as anyone,” Kumar said. “Collectively, [the Latino electorate] is incredibly powerful. We have to opt into the political system. We have to say, 'Enough is enough.' Our children are dying in record numbers. We need to ask ourselves, 'What is it going to take for us as a community to make a change?'”

She added, “I’m not saying everyone is innocent. But I’m saying it’s an epidemic.”