And Justice For All: Building Relationships for Immigrant Communities

Luz Gallegos, Community Programs Director for TODEC

Luz Gallegos, Community Programs Director for TODEC Legal Center

By Danny Turkel, Digital Coordinator, NCLR

Founded 31 years ago, the Training Occupational Development Educating Communities Legal Center (TODEC) has been an advocate for immigrants’ rights in California’s Inland Empire. The organization was instrumental in advocating and lobbying for the successful passage of AB 60, a 2013 California law authorizing driver licenses for undocumented immigrants. While some decried the law, thousands of people already driving in California were able to take state mandated driving tests and become officially certified to drive in the state. Public safety aside, the law provided more than just a state-issued license. For the first time, many undocumented immigrants were able to take their children to school without fear of tickets, arrest, confiscation of their vehicles, or even deportation.

Luz Gallegos, Community Programs Director for TODEC, described the fight to make sure all Californians can live their lives productively and effectively.

“We just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the passage of AB 60, which is
the California driver license law for undocumented immigrants. There were situations where the police would be outside the schools in the mornings and afternoons, giving tickets, and once they found out a parent didn’t have a driver’s license, they would take their vehicle away,” said Gallegos. “The parents felt that they were being targeted. A high percentage of families living in the area were undocumented.”TODEC logo

The confiscation of the family car had a detrimental impact: children weren’t able to get to school, nor parents to work.

Compounding the issue, the various police departments in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial counties were less than receptive to working with the community to address the driver’s license issue, among others.

“Once AB 60 passed, one of the sheriffs in an area we serve said that his department wouldn’t respect the law, but through building relationships and sitting down and discussing our constituents’ side, he finally agreed that he would uphold the law and allow his officers to do so as well,” said Gallegos.

Relationship-building has been a tool consistently invoked in the fight against police abuse, and while that may seem obvious to an observer, those working on the ground to correct the police violence epidemic see it as the most valuable tactic available. Once both sides of the debate sit down to discuss their views and issues, the debate softens and workable solutions are usually found.

“Relationships are important—not only with the police officers and captains, but also with the sheriffs because they are elected officials and it’s very important for them to see that the community is paying attention to them as well. That brought a lot of accountability.”

Ending abusive policing tactics is a challenge we must undertake as a nation if we wish to live in a peaceful, trusting society. Allowing distrust and violence to become ingrained in our collective lives would undermine the basic tenets of our democracy.

And Justice For All: Engaging People through Community Policing Programs

By Danny Turkel, Digital Coordinator, NCLR

In spite of the narrative playing out in most cities, Octavio Villalobos is one police officer who’s working to build trust between the police and his community. As the head of the Kansas City Police Department’s Community Policing Program, Villalobos is tasked with conducting community outreach to show residents how they can partner with the police department in ridding their neighborhoods of crime.

“We assess the problems affecting the community systemically with quality of life issues and we try to partner with the community and resolve those issues before they become issues of crime,” said Villalobos.” We try to deter it, problem solve it, or use law enforcement to clean it up, and we do all that in partnership with the community.”

In Kansas City, community policing includes doing things not usually thought of as traditional police duties. For Villalobos, that means building showers for day laborers in the program’s office, or attending little-league games and schools events, and assisting in the rebuilding of community infrastructure. Doing these things, Villalobos says, has demonstrated to the community that their goals are intertwined with those of the police in improving the neighborhood.

“As soon as we initiated that and started doing outreach, the community members started to respond like, ‘Wow, that was an act of compassion,’” said Villalobos. He notes that as that relationship has strengthened, community members have been much more willing to assist police in deterring and investigating crime.

Villalobos praises his department leaders with being “ahead of the game” in recognizing the need to involve the community in their police work, as well as hiring police officers who are representative of the community they patrol.

Before the civil rights movement, Kansas City was marred by race-based tension and segregation. Because of this, Villalobos says, the police department began learning to operate through a community-based approach much earlier than most other cities.

An early emphasis on recruitment from the inner city allowed for greater representation on the force. This allowed a young Octavio Villalobos to view policing as a career in which Latinos could be successful. He also stresses the need for police departments across the country to make it known that they are not “an occupying force in the neighborhood,” but rather a partner dedicated to improving the lives of community members.

Any law enforcement approach must involve tackling the issues from both sides, stresses

Kansas City, MO Image courtesy of Caleb Zahnd.

Kansas City skyline as Night Descends
Image courtesy of Caleb Zahnd.

Villalobos. The leaders of the police department must work with the most vulnerable members of the community.

Villalobos’ experience in Kansas City demonstrates how police departments can yield positive results, reduce incidents of police abuse, and increase public safety through an investment and a commitment to engage with Latino communities.

Policing, Body-Worn Cameras, and Latino Communities

New technologies are dramatically changing the daily work of police officers and other law enforcement professionals, and transforming the public’s experience with law enforcement. Earlier today, NCLR held a free webinar that explores body-worn cameras and the impact they’re having on community policing in Latino neighborhoods.

Watch the whole webinar below:

October Is National Youth Justice Awareness Month

Facts You Should Know About Latino Youth and the Juvenile Justice System

President Obama has designated October 2015 as National Youth Justice Awareness month. In his proclamation, the president reminded the nation of our need to reevaluate the large-scale incarceration and treatment of juveniles by our criminal justice system.

The devastating impact of mass incarceration of young people of color—who are significantly overrepresented in the system, primarily for nonviolent crimes—is alarming, particularly given the huge demographic shift underway. As we heed the president’s call to rededicate ourselves to preventing youth from entering the juvenile and criminal justice systems, here are some facts you should know about Latino youth and the juvenile justice system:

  1. Latinos under age 18 are the largest racial or ethnic minority group of children and also the fastest-growing. Close to one-quarter of children and youth in the U.S. is Hispanic, a proportion that will increase to one-third by 2030. Overall, the current Hispanic population is at a historic 55 million, with Latinos making up a significant portion of the population in states such as New Mexico, Florida, New York, Texas, California, and Illinois.
  1. Latino youth are disproportionately impacted across the juvenile and criminal justice system and are more likely to be incarcerated than White youth, even for the same category of charges. Latino youth are 16% more likely than White youth to be adjudicated delinquent; 28% more likely than White youth to be detained; 41% more likely than White youth to have received an out-of-home placement; 43% more likely than White youth to have been waived to the adult system; and 40% more likely to have been admitted to adult prison.
  1. Because states are not required to collect ethnicity data, the actual numbers of Hispanic youth in contact with the juvenile justice system are severely underreported. The rate for White youth is inflated and skews comparison rates with minority youth, which results in the invisibility of Latino youth in the juvenile justice system.
  1. Latino youth who come in contact with the criminal justice system, even for minor offenses, face significant barriers to completing high school and obtaining stable employment; factors which have long-term lifetime economic and social implications.

The Juvenile Justice system is in urgent need of fixing. Congress has not reauthorized the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 since 2002. The law was intended to move young offenders out of adult prison and address racial disparities across the juvenile justice system. In 2012, there were still 95,000 youth locked up in adult jails and prisons, many of them subjected to abuse and solitary confinement for weeks and months at a time.

Meaningful reform of the juvenile justice system cannot happen without including the voices of youth, family, and community impacted by this broken system, and the input of community-based leaders, advocates, and service-providers who work daily with youth. Legislators, policymakers, advocates, and community members must work together and recommit to building a country where all young people can flourish.

And Justice For All: 21st Century Policing

by Danny Turkel, Digital Coordinator, NCLR

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

On December 18, 2014, President Obama signed an executive order to create the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a committee composed of law enforcement, academics, and community organizers. The task force’s mission was to “examine, among other issues, how to strengthen public trust and foster strong relationships between local law enforcement and the communities that they protect, while also promoting effective crime reduction.” Their final report, issued last May, consists of six pillars: Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Training and Education, and Officer Wellness and Safety. Within these pillars, the report offers 59 recommendations and close to one hundred specific action items in order to achieve the task force’s goals.

Jose Lopez, who currently serves as Director of Organizing for Make the Road New York, a New York City–based immigrant justice organization, was chosen to serve on the panel that authored the report. Lopez agrees that there are larger issues at play than just poorly trained, trigger-happy police officers. He views policing in a historical context, commonly used for “racialized social control.”

“When you think of it in that way, you see it as housing, you see it in the denial of voting, and you see it as the denial of higher education, no access to financial aid,” said Lopez. “It’s interesting that today it is still completely legal to discriminate against criminals in the way that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans in the Jim Crow South.”

Lopez made it clear that when we talk about policing, however we frame it, we need to be moving away from discrimination. “When I think about 21st-century policing, I think about it from the lens of the young people whom I work with on a daily basis; what do they experience, and how does policing impact them and their communities?”

Alonzo Dario tests the patience of Phoenix Police Officer Young during the “Day of Action” march. (Cop_Youngster by Dan Shouse, licensed under CC BY-NC)

For Latino communities, Lopez highlights the need to disentangle local law enforcement with immigration enforcement. While this is not the sole cause of friction between police and Latinos, it would certainly go a long way to rebuilding the trust and confidence Latinos have in law enforcement.

“If immigrant communities only see police as the gateway to deportation, there will absolutely never be any trust there or any push from the immigrant community to want to come forward, for example, to report a crime that they may have witnessed,” said Lopez. By putting police officers on the front lines of America’s immigration battle, public confidence in law enforcement is eroded, especially for Latinos.

He also describes problems stemming from the expansion of the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC), an FBI database originally created in 1967 to track criminals across jurisdictions. However, as Lopez describes, “In 2002, an immigrant violator database was added to the NCIC and so what the database now does is it tells police officers if the individual who’s stopped has an outstanding removal order, failed to complete post–September 11 registration requirements, or was previously deported on a felony.”

According to Lopez, if any of anything comes up as a hit on the database, local law enforcement is then supposed to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A study by the Migration Policy Institute found that the NCIC database has a national average error rate of 42% when attempting to determine someone’s immigration status; Shelby County, Tennessee, is the worst offender with a 98% error rate.

Another item that Lopez talked about was getting police officers out of local schools. “Examining New York City during the 2013–2014 school year [the latest data available], there were 775 arrests and summons, almost four per day, by the NYPD’s School Safety Division. Black and Latino students account for 60% of students but made up 94.3% of all students who were arrested” said Lopez. “The impact on Latino students is real. Our students are two times likelier to be suspended than White students and one suspension doubles the likelihood of dropping out. Students who drop out are more than eight times as likely to end up in the criminal justice system. We have to move away from making schools feel and act like prisons.”

Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Public Domain

One major improvement that could be made in our communities, says Lopez, is the creation of crisis intervention teams, groups made up of community members, mental health experts, and law enforcement officials, which can respond to emergencies and provide holistic, community-based solutions to situations that may be exacerbated by regular police protocols.

Even as he’s listing the names and circumstances of the countless victims of police violence, Lopez speaks with an energetic optimism and clarity that hints at why he was qualified to sit on the president’s panel. Despite the difficulties in implementing nationwide policing standards, Mr. Lopez is cautiously hopeful about the future.

“It’s one of those things that can quickly go south if you don’t have the right people on the team and who respond to these things in a timely fashion. We have to get it right.”