Latinos In The Black Lives Matter Moment
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s horrible murder, Latinos are joining the thousands of protestors who have been marching daily since the death to lend their voice against police violence and racial injustice in America. Half a dozen high profile killings of Blacks by police in the past year have led Americans to begin new and deeper conversations about individual racism and systemic racism in our society.
“Systemic racism,” according to one of the leading thinkers on this subject, sociologist Joe Feagin, “ includes the complex array of antiblack practices, the unjustly gained political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power.”
An early example systematic racism took form in the relocation of Indian Americans to the western territories. In one major anti-Indian campaign, Indian tribes on the East coast were forcibly removed west to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma. President Andrew Jackson, a notorious Indian hater, ordered the tribes forcible removal in the 1830s. U.S. soldiers hunted, killed, and burned multiple Indian villages.
In another instance of systemic racism against Indian tribes the U.S. Congress approved a bill that called for adding White settlers to the largely Indian Territory. The lives of the relocated Indian tribes in Oklahoma began to unravel. The free land distribution plan got off to a bad start as thousands of “privileged” or white settlers engaged in a wild and illegal land rush prior to the official opening of Oklahoma. Hundreds of thousands of acres belonging to the relocated Indian tribes were assigned new owners–who answered to their new name, “Sooners.” Land that belonged to the Indian tribes was stolen by White setters with government approval.
White elites also wrote the regulations and laws that denied Blacks and Latinos any privilege or power in the first century of the new American nation. Despite the declaration of “liberty and justice for all,” and the stated ideal that “that all men are created equal,” the U.S.Constitution empowered Whites to legally keep Blacks enslaved, preventing them from living a life of their own. Blacks had a dream–to be free. In the post-salvery years Blacks fared only slightly better, which is evident in the violence that occurred across the South in the aftermath of the Civil War.
At the time when Whites were creating a new society in the former Indian Territory, Black were fleeing the South in droves. Cheap labor was needed and Blacks found work in the farms and cities of the newly created state. In Tulsa, Oklahoma Black businessmen and professionals established the Greenwood Black “Wall Street” District, one of the model Black communities of America.
In June of 1921, a Black teen accused of assaulting a White woman in an elevator, ran to the Black Greenwood area. White vigilantes who pursued him destroyed the entire town as a form of punishment. The police did nothing to prevent or restrain the White racists who burned down the entire Black community and killed 300 Black residents. The killing and looting by the vigilantes and their horrendous deeds went unpunished. It took a generation to rebuild Greenwood, but less than 24 hours to destroy it.
In Tulsa, and other American communities throughout the South and Southwest, Whites utilize their “privilege and power” to control racial and ethnic minorities. Latinos remember a 1977 incident when six Houston police officers arrested 23 year old Jose Campos Torres, a Vietnam veteran, at a bar for disorderly conduct. The police took Torres to a secluded lot and beat him while he was handcuffed. They loaded him into a police car and took him in for booking.
The police station refused to book Torres, instructing the arresting officers to take him to the nearest hospital first. Torres never made it to the hospital. The police stopped instead on the banks of the Buffalo Bayou where they threw the handcuffed and helpless Torres into deep water and left him to die. He drowned and his body was recovered three days later. Only two officers of the six officers were charged for the death of Torres by the State of Texas. Three other police officers were fired, but not charged. The officers convicted of Torres’ death received minimal sentencing of one year probation and a one dollar fine.
The President’s rally in Tulsa on June 20 opened new wounds for Tulsa’s Black residents, and inadvertently attracted fresh historical attention to racism at its worst. Everyday the call for police reform grows louder, and the re-prioritizing funding of police departments to protect communities in a safe and humane way comes closer to a reality in some cities.
The debate on the process to end systemic racism has begun. It will take strong local, state, and federal legislation to undo centuries of overt oppression which too often has had violent overtones. In addition, the overt suppression of basic rights such as voting is being challenged. From all indications, America may well be on the path toward a more just society. We will see.
Copyright 2020 by Dr. Ricardo Romo. Montage of sign copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc. All other images in the public domain.