On Feb. 28, 2011, Alex Martinez was shot 13 times by a deputy sheriff. Martinez, a young adult who lived with his family in Whatcom County, had mental health issues, and that day, his father, Jesus Martinez, called 911 because he wanted to get Alex help.
The family was Hispanic.
The sheriff, along with another officer from border security who could translate Spanish, arrived — even before an ambulance — and reportedly thought Alex wanted to harm him, so he shot Alex to death.
But Alex was not holding a weapon and was not trying to harm the officer, according to the many family members who witnessed the event. They say the shooting was most likely a racist mistake.
Family members reported the Sheriff’s Office refused to acknowledge the family’s version of events — instead, they said, the Sheriff’s Office swept the incident under the rug like it never happened. To this day, the office denies any wrongdoing or need for review regarding the incident.
Such incidents were behind the Nov. 12 forum hosted by Alliance for a Just Society, CAIR-Washington, Causa Oregon, Center for Intercultural Organizing, OneAmerica and Rights Working Group. The event, at Seattle City Hall, was to inform attendees and individuals involved with law making about the severity of racial profiling.
The event included testimony and expert information about what racial profiling is, how it manifests itself and what possible steps law makers and police need to take to stop it.
“I wasn’t aware the extent that racial profiling happens in Washington. You always hear about border patrol in the South,” said attendee Nicole Ground. “Obviously, a story like the young man who was killed is really terrifying and shocking — that it’s going on at that level.”
OneAmerica policy director Ada Williams Prince said activists hope legislation passes to crack down on racial profiling, including the possible voters’ rights bills that are hoped to be introduced in the next legislative lesion.
“There is a tremendous amount of feeling and passion around this,” Prince said. “It’s something we all really believe in.”
So far, Washington state has made progress by passing Initiative 502 that legalizes adult use of marijuana, according to human-rights groups. This is a plus because people of color are disproportionately arrested for marijuana use, which leads to overwhelmingly higher levels of incarceration among minorities. At the King County Jail, for instance, more than two-thirds of inmates are non-white, according to the jail’s data.
Because of the initiative, African-American, Latino and other minority communities may experience less incarceration, more employment and better access to housing, work and education opportunities, activists say.
However, Washington needs to reform border security, according to human-rights groups. The state has 427 miles of borders along Canada. In 2003, 569 border-patrol agents roamed the border; in 2012, there were more than 2,200. This type of aggressive patrolling creates extended racial profiling where minorities are stopped, harassed, incarcerated, treated inhumanely or even killed because of what they look like, they say.
“The collaboration of border security and local law enforcement — which is there to serve and protect us in the community — obviously has really horrible consequences,” said forum attendee Amanda Aguilar-Shank. “We need to stop it.”
Julia Shearson, another event attendee, said police, in general, have little to no training in responding to families in crisis situations, which is even compounded when the families are minorities.
“When you call someone to help you and they end up killing you — I don’t know what more you can say,” she said.
More to do
In the coming months and years, OneAmerica hopes to pass an act that ends racial profiling, which would ban racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels.
It also aims to have the Obama administration revise the 2003 Department of Justice guidance on racial profiling to eliminate the border and national security loopholes to include profiling based on religion and national origin.
It also aims to have Congress and the Obama administration eliminate the Department of Homeland Security programs such as Criminal Alien Program and the Secure Communities initiative that result in racial profiling.
However, local law enforcement has anti-racial-profiling guidelines already in place. Under current state law, local law enforcement must adopt a written policy designed to condemn racial profiling, review existing procedures, practices and training to ensure they do not enable or foster the practice of racial profiling and continue to address issues related to racial profiling.
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