Recalling The Death Of Alex Nieto, And Why Latinos Seldom Make Headlines In Police Shootings

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner were all unarmed youth/men who died at the hands of law enforcement, igniting nationwide protests from activists who argued their killings were unjustified. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are among the many who are now household names in America. The extrajudicial execution of Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, however, went largely unnoticed.

Nieto was born and raised in the Bernal Heights and Mission districts in San Francisco. He was a beloved son and brother, and a peaceful member of his community. Apart from being a full-time scholarship student at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), earning a criminal justice degree and applying for transfer, he was a full-time security guard at El Toro nightclub, a provider for his family, and an active volunteer at several youth organizations.

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On Friday night, March 21, 2014, Nieto, 28, was killed when he was struck by approximately 15 bullets fired by four San Francisco Police Department officers, on Bernal Hill Park, without justification. Nieto was reportedly enjoying his dinner, dressed for his bouncer shift at the nightclub before someone called 911. A series of white men—newcomers—saw Nieto as a suspicious outsider. He died in the neighborhood where he spent his whole life.

Antonio Zambrano-Montes was a Mexican migrant worker, shot and killed by police officers on February 10, 2015 in Pasco, Washington. Video footage appeared to show Zambrano-Montes throwing rocks at police and then running away, both hands raised in the air before cops shot him. The Pasco Police Department defended their officers’ actions.

José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, 16, was a Mexican national who was pierced with 10 bullets while walking alongside near the U.S.-Mexico border. American state agents claimed he was throwing rocks at them while they were responding to a report of drug smuggling in Nogales. Autopsy showed most of the bullets hit him from behind.

Police violence against Latinos fails to make headlines although it mirrors the abuse against the black community. Why?

In 2014, a study published by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race discovered that “stories about Latinos comprise less than 1 percent of all main news media coverage, and the majority of these stories feature Latinos as lawbreakers.” The two leading national news channels, Fox News and CNN, often fail to run segments on slain Latinos involving police, while Spanish-Language programs like “Primer Impacto,” “Despierta América” and “Al Punto” cover them multiple times over. 

“Violence or discrimination against Latinos does not tend to resonate among most Americans because Latinos are generally not perceived as Americans but recent immigrants or foreigners with no deep roots and histories in the U.S.,” Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the center’s director and the lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post. “So, abuses of power or injustices toward Latinos remain out of sight and out of mind.”

“You know that idea, ‘if it bleeds, it leads?” chimed Gregory Chris Brown, a professor of criminal justice at California State University, Fullerton. “If it’s a Latino that’s bleeding and it’s law enforcement that made him bleed, that’s not newsworthy, because the idea is that the Latino did something to make it happen.”

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According to figures compiled by The Guardian, part of the problem in the grand scheme of things is a lack of raw political power. While Latinos account for about 16 percent of the American population, they only make up 6 percent of Congress. African-Americans, by comparison, constitute 13 percent of the general population and 9 percent of Congress. Even if Latinos do have high-profile voting campaigns, “the voter turnout rate among eligible Hispanics lags well behind those of African-Americans, whites and Asian-Americans.”

“Until it comes to the attention of these activist groups that make the news media pay attention, nothing happens,” Brown added. “If you have no political power, you have no economic power, you’re not going to get recognized.”