Killing in Washington State Offers ‘Ferguson’ Moment for Hispanics

2/17/15
 
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from The New York Times,
2/16/15:

Pasco Police’s Shooting of Rock Thrower Draws Comparisons to Michael Brown Case.

Members of the Zambrano family began arriving here three decades ago, picking apples in nearby orchards. Over time they have become part of the fabric of this harvesting town, growing to more than 50 and settling in tiny candy-colored homes, some ringed by white picket fences.

Then, last week, one of their own was killed by the police, his death caught in a video that has sped around the Internet. Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, is shown running from three Pasco officers. He turns and swings his hands upward, before he is felled by a spray of bullets, his body slamming the concrete. He had been throwing rocks at cars and police officers.

It was the third killing by the Pasco police since July, and the video has brought international attention, with a flurry of online commenters criticizing the use of force against a man without a gun or a knife, making comparisons to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

It has drawn condemnation from the president of Mexico and multiple investigations, including inquiries by a task force of local police agencies, by the county coroner and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An official from the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Washington has also called community leaders, assuring them that the shooting will get a thorough review, which may include an examination of police training and whether it played a role.

While many Hispanics have found work and stable, if not particularly affluent, lives here, the killing has drawn attention to their lack of clout. And, as with blacks in Ferguson, it has intensified feelings among Hispanics that they remain second-tier residents.

“They had him like a deer, hunting him,” said Maria Paniagua, 41, a resident with six children. “What happens when one of my kids gets in a jam and runs. Will they shoot him down?”

Though Latino workers have been here since at least the 1960s, attracted by jobs gathering fruit and asparagus in the region’s vast fields, few have moved into law enforcement or city government. Of the city’s 68 officers, 14 are Hispanic. A dozen officers speak Spanish fluently, and some residents cite language barriers that complicate interactions with the police. The City Council has one Latino member. The five-member school board, which oversees a system that is 70 percent Latino, typically has one or two Latino members, but this year has none.

All three officers involved in last week’s shooting have been placed on paid leave. One of them, Adrian Alaniz, a Pasco native, is Hispanic.

The shooting has caused soul-searching among some city officials, who, even as they urge the residents to wait for the results of an investigation, say the protests have uncovered anger bubbling below the surface.

“This was about more than just Antonio,” said City Manager Dave Zabell, who took over the job last August. “It’s part of a community emerging,” he continued, “and frankly, it’s welcomed.”

Mr. Zambrano-Montes was in the country illegally and did not speak English.

He was arrested for assaulting a police officer in January 2014. The police said he had thrown objects at officers and tried to grab an officer’s pistol. He pleaded guilty in June.

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