Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

18

Revisiting the Role of Latinos and
Immigrants in Police Research

Ramiro Martínez Jr.

The scarcity of research on Latinos and policing is one of the most enduring shortcomings in the development of race/ethnicity and the criminal justice system scholarship.1 This oversight is curious since scholars in the 1931 Wickersham Commission report focused on police treatment of Mexican immigrants, a topic central to early work on immigrants and crime, and one pivotal to early studies on the effects of Mexican immigration into the United States.2 Pioneering research on Latinos and police also include overlooked studies on Border Patrol mistreatment of “illegal” aliens,3 state police abuse of the Mexican origin in Texas,4 and the “contentious relationship” between ethnic minorities and urban police departments during World War II.5 The latter was highlighted by the “zoot-suit hysteria” and police misconduct in the 1940s, when the singling out of Latinos by various facets of the criminal justice system laid the foundation for protracted animosity between the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the city's Mexican-origin community.6 In fact, scholars contend that even in the absence of solid data on this topic, the LAPD and general community stereotyped Mexican-origin youth as inherently delinquent for the last half of the 20th century.7

Even though early research existed on immigrants and the police, contemporary research on Latino perception of local police, encounters with federal police agents (i.e., , or ICE), or city police by residents of heavily immigrant communities across the United States is scarce.8This includes the failure to examine the consequences of stepped-up enforcement of federal immigration policies by local police, or police raids on businesses in search of “illegal” immigrants.9The current lack of research is obvious. For example, a recent search of articles published between 1990 and 2006 with keywords “Hispanic” or “Latino” and “police” in Criminal Justice Abstracts netted 68 items, but a similar search using “Black” or “African American” and “police” provided 485 articles on this topic. Scholars have understandably directed attention to Black and White attitudinal differences toward the police and documented the perception and prevalence of police misconduct in some African American areas, in particular extremely poor communities, where aggressive police strategies are concentrated.10 Still researchers interested in examining racial and ethnic variations in

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