Over-Policing, Police Brutality Issues for Growing Latino Community
American Bar Association News Service
By Alexandra Buller
NEW YORK — Leaders in the Latino community and victims of racial violence testified today in New York about police brutality and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” one day after the Census Bureau reported that one in six people in the United States is Hispanic.
Access to education has systemic barriers that are disproportionate to Latino and other minority communities, Larry Schwartzel, a staff attorney at the Racial Justice Program of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the American Bar Association Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities. “It is impossible to not observe the very obvious disparity,” he said.
“The force which polices the public school system is the fifth largest in the country, surpassing the forces of major cities of Boston and Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The increased presence of the NYPD and use of aggressive street policing tactics within schools has created the feeling of treating students as criminals for typical student behavior.” Security for the New York public schools is a division of the New York Police Department.
Schwartzel said that practices such as using force on students for issues like writing their names on their desks, or patrolling school halls as if they were city streets, are among the barriers to education. He also cited problems such as over-categorizing students as learning disabled, and zero-tolerance policies within schools.
Over-policing can actually set students up for a life of crime.
“Being arrested as a student increases the likelihood of the student to drop out of school, which in turn increases the rate of incarceration,” Schwartzel said.
He also said that this activity is not specific to New York, but is prevalent across the country.
“There are valid concerns for school safety, but imparting police practices in a school hallway is a bad mix,” he said, noting police officers are not trained to deal with students. Schwartzel also explained that part of the problem is that police within the school system receive only 14 weeks of training as opposed to six months of training that the rest of the NYPD receive.
Instances of police brutality are also disproportionately high in Latino communities.
Richard Rivera, a former New Jersey police officer and national expert on police brutality and racial profiling, said that disparities in treatment of Latino and other minoritycommunities exist in New York and New Jersey, and agencies need to be held accountable. “Just exposing disparities isn’t getting you there,” he said.
Ryan Nunez, a victim of police brutality in November 2007, said, “It’s not right to have cops posted in our neighborhoods, looking for an excuse to get us, to use force against us … it’s not fair for police to use force against us in numerous cases.”
His mother, Rebecca Nunez, said, “Hispanics and blacks dress or speak in a certain way but they should not be treated a certain way for that. … They [police] are the law and are here for that purpose, but they can’t be using their power to abuse our kids.”
The commission looked at a wide array of topics affecting the Latino community. The next hearing will take place in Miami on May 20. The testimony gathered at these hearings will inform the development of recommendations for congressional and presidential administration policymakers.