Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Hispanics

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has put Latinos at risk

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks during a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the South Point Hotel & Casino on February 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Police brutality is hardly just a black issue, as Hispanics all over the country increasingly face police abuse, racial profiling, and hate crimes. Often this misconduct stems from xenophobia and rising concerns about undocumented immigrants.

Across the nation, police departments have made headlines for their mistreatment of Latinos. These cases have not only involved undocumented immigrants but also Hispanic Americans and permanent legal residents. In states as varied as Connecticut, California, and Arizona, Latinos have suffered at the hands of police in egregious manners.

Latinos Targeted in Maricopa County

Racial profiling. Unlawful detainment. Stalking. These are some of the inappropriate and illegal behaviors that officers in Arizona have allegedly engaged in, according to a 2012 complaint the U.S. Justice Department filed against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. MCSO deputies stopped Latino drivers anywhere from four to nine times more than other drivers, in some cases only to detain them for long periods. In one instance, deputies pulled over a car with four Latino men inside. The driver hadn’t violated any traffic laws, but the officers proceeded to force him and his passengers out of the car and make them wait on the curb, zip-tied, for an hour.

The Justice Department also detailed incidents where the authorities followed Hispanic women to their homes and roughed them up. The federal government alleges that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio routinely failed to investigate cases of sexual assault against Hispanic women.

The aforementioned cases refer to police interaction with Latinos on the streets of Maricopa County, but inmates in the county jail have also suffered at the hands of law enforcement. Female prisoners have been denied feminine hygiene products and called derogatory names. Hispanic male inmates have been on the receiving end of racial slurs and put-downs such as “wetbacks” and “stupid Mexicans.”

Border Patrol Killings

It’s not just local law enforcement agencies that have been accused of racially profiling Latinos and committing acts of police brutality against them, it’s also the U.S. Border Patrol. In April 2012, Latino advocacy group Presente.org launched a petition to raise awareness about the Border Patrol’s fatal beating of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, which took place two years earlier. The group launched the petition after a video of the beating surfaced in hopes of pressuring the Justice Department to take action against the officers involved.

“If justice isn’t served for Anastasio, even when the video clearly shows injustice, Border Patrol agents will continue their pattern of abuse and lethal force,” the Presente team said in a statement. Between 2010 to 2012, Border Patrol agents were involved in seven killings, according to the civil rights group.

LAPD Officer Found Guilty of Profiling Hispanics

In an unprecedented move in March 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department determined that one of its officers had engaged in racial profiling. Which group did the officer in question target? Latinos, according to the LAPD. Patrick Smith, a white officer on the job for 15 years, pulled over a disproportionate amount of Latinos during traffic stops, the Los Angeles Times reported. He allegedly tried to conceal the fact that he’d so often targeted Hispanic drivers by misidentifying them as white on paperwork.

Smith may be the first LAPD officer found guilty of racial profiling, but he’s unlikely the only one engaging in the practice. “A 2008 study of LAPD data by a Yale researcher found blacks and Latinos were subjected to stops, frisks, searches, and arrests at significantly higher rates than whites, regardless of whether they lived in high-crime neighborhoods,” the Times noted. Moreover, 250 allegations of racial profiling are made against officers annually.

East Haven Police Under Fire

News broke in January 2012 that federal investigators had charged police in East Haven, Conn., with obstruction of justice, excessive force, conspiracy and other crimes concerning their treatment of Latinos in the city. According to the New York Times, East Haven police officers, “stopped and detained people, particularly immigrants, without reason...sometimes slapping, hitting or kicking them when they were handcuffed, and once smashing a man's head into a wall.”

They tried to cover up their behavior by targeting bystanders who witnessed and tried to document their illegal acts. They also allegedly tried to recover surveillance tapes from area businesses that captured their abuses on video.

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Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Hispanics." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/racial-profiling-police-brutality-against-hispanics-2834820. Nittle, Nadra Kareem. (2020, August 26). Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Hispanics. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/racial-profiling-police-brutality-against-hispanics-2834820 Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Hispanics." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/racial-profiling-police-brutality-against-hispanics-2834820 (accessed January 23, 2021).