The images out of Ferguson, Missouri, these past two weeks have been shocking: tear gas blanketing suburban streets, law enforcement creating a war zone and defiant protesters braving it all. But it is important to remember that what started Ferguson’s fight is far too common: the police killing of an unarmed black teen.
African-Americans are the primary targets of law-enforcement profiling and violence, as the killings of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Jonathan Ferrell and Eric Garner all attest. But during this past week, Latino, Asian-American, Arab-American and Muslim organizations have all released statements of solidarity informed by similar experiences with discriminatory law enforcement practices, as well as an urgency to collectively identify and implement solutions.
In fact, Latinos and Asian- and Arab-Americans have a critical stake in reforming discriminatory police practices. While African-Americans in Ferguson must remain the primary voices and decision-makers calling for action to address the murder of Michael Brown, other communities of color can and must join Ferguson’s fight by linking the impact of racially motivated policing with the structural racial inequities that exacerbate it.
Latinos and Asian and Arab-Americans are no strangers to police violence and profiling based on skin color, accent, language, immigration status and faith. For example, Fong Lee, the 19-year-old son of Laotian refugees, was shot and killed by a police officer as he was riding his bike home from school in Minneapolis in 2006. For years, Latinos, along with African-Americans, have been the disproportionate targets of the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” tactic. And Muslim, South Asian and Arab-American communities have experienced ongoing surveillance in mosques and student associations, all in the name of national security.
In their ongoing war on undocumented immigration, federal and state law enforcement agencies have been accused of engaging in rampant profiling of Latino and Asian-American communities. Federal programs such as Secure Communities and “Show Me Your Papers” laws enacted in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have led to stops and detentions of people based on their accents or skin color, and deepened both documented and undocumented immigrants’ fears of engaging with law enforcement.