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The Latinx relationship with police is across the board. A recent Mijente study tried to make some sense. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
The Latinx relationship with police is across the board. A recent Mijente study tried to make some sense. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The Latinx experience with law enforcement: Not great, worse for some, and in need of more investment

The first comprehensive investigation of Latinx interactions with police tried to gather the wide swath of Latinx public opinion into one study.

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On Tuesday, May 17, the national Latinx and Chicanx nonprofit organization, Mijente, released the first comprehensive investigation which captures Latinx experiences with police and their perceptions on law enforcement and public safety.

Commissioned by Mijente, the investigation was conducted by the non-partisan public opinion firm PerryUndem, and its intention is to expand the conversation about public safety and policing in the Latinx community through the use of carefully collected data on the subject. 

The analysis, which included polls and focus groups, provides a brand new understanding of how Latinx people interact with law enforcement officers, and insights that can help improve organizing and advocacy work around community safety. 

In order to discover the roots of Latinx communities’ perspective on safety and policing, this research project was conducted in collaboration with Mijente’s network of partners and organizers who also wished to better understand what “moves” this community. 

The examination is a survey of 1,359 Latinx adults and 11 focus groups involving people of various races, immigration history, languages, levels of political activism, and places of residence, both in the U.S and in Puerto Rico.

The final results reveal a narrative that matches the energy of the Latinx diaspora as a whole; that political beliefs vary dramatically depending on many factors. 

For instance, while Afro-Latinx respondents reported higher levels of unpleasant or violent interactions with police, people of all races reported experiencing negative interactions with police as well. 

There were also significant differences among Puerto Ricans living on the island, as many residents associate police budgets with a lack of funding for all public resources, such as education, health and public transportation. 

Another important discovery was that nearly all respondents (93%) were in favor of political platforms that seek to implement crime prevention strategies, such as investing more into healthcare, workforce development, and education. 

Of all the Latinx participants, the majority of them reported having a negative experience with police. One out of 10 Latinx respondents said that a police officer has pointed a gun at them, while one out of three Afro-Latinx respondents said that the same has happened to a family member. 

About 62% of Latinx respondents (six out of 10), reported that a close friend or family member has experienced an unpleasant or unsafe encounter with law enforcement officials. Roughly two-thirds of Afro-Latinx respondents said that this has personally happened to them. 

Some women in the focus groups reported feeling unsafe around police officers due to their gender. Multiple women said they feel vulnerable around police; fearing sexual assault, or not being protected by male officers. 

This is a valid fear for women to hold. While there is a severe lack of research on the subject, a 2016 probe into the Baltimore Police Department by the Department of Justice found that officers habitually extorted sex from women by threatening to charge them with prostitution if they refused. 

One respondent, a 47-year-old New Mexico woman, who identifies as Independent, but leans Democrat, said that she feels that police “have power over you.” 

“There is this feeling that if this suddenly turned bad-and as a woman you feel like, would I be able to protect myself? For us, it's a different thing,” she said. 

One Afro-Latina woman said the intersection of being Black and a woman increases her chances of being targeted by police and experiencing police brutality or neglect. 

This is highlighted in the many cases of Black women who are killed, mistreated, and neglected by police or under police custody, like Sandra Bland, Ma’Khia Bryant, and Korryn Gaines. 

The data suggests that people of color who have been targeted by police, as well as those who are aware of this issue, are less likely to trust law enforcement, and understand the need for policing alternatives. 

This kind of deep distrust in police can manifest itself in many ways, such as hesitating or completely avoiding calling the cops in times of emergency. For example, four out of 10 Afro-Latinx participants said that they chose not to call 911 out of fear that police would exacerbate the situation. 

Many respondents did agree that there should be an alternative to the current system the country uses to maintain public safety, but they found it hard to imagine what that could look like. 

However, 87% of Latinx respondents did say they support sending professional healthcare workers and social workers to emergency scenes instead of police.

Surprisingly, among Latinx Republicans, a large percentage of respondents (71%) expressed support for legislative reform to prevent police reform, and 79% support investments into crime prevention strategies, such as replacing police officers with social workers or mental health practitioners. 

“We must invest in grassroots organizing and education in our communities that includes sharp and innovative messaging. We hope this research is a contribution to all the future work that is yet to be done,” the report’s authors wrote. 






 

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