Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Prejudice is the Reason of Fools II

A video that surfaced recently in the Seattle media reveals how an innocent person who is dumb enough to declare that he is from Mexico may expect to be treated if he is merely a “suspect.” The video shows him sharing a face-down position on the pavement with a couple of other “suspects” of a robbery (apparently an intoxicated tough-guy extorted $40 dollars from a man leaving a bar while waving a machete—like he was actually going to use it); after making his ill-advised declaration, he received a kick in the face by a male officer, Shandy Cobane, followed shortly afterward by an equally vicious stomp on the man’s back or leg by a female officer who thought she’d get in on the “action.” Moments later—likely after being cleared by the police dispatcher—the man is assisted to his feet by one of the officers and released. One suspects that the officers, who had no idea that some guerilla video artist was taping the scene, were fairly confident that a few kicks or stomps is routine business, and that being a “Mexican” he should feel fortunate that this is all he is was subjected to for not committing a crime. Those who are fans of the Firesign Theatre might recall their skit “Deputy Dan Has No Friends,” in which a coloring book for children is being translated from Spanish to English: “Deputy Dan will knock you down if you’re hit by a car.” That was back in 1970. There is a lot of talk about how laws like the one passed in Arizona will put a crimp into cooperation between law enforcement and the Latino community; the real question is how much worse can it get. Civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the ACLU, want hate crime charges against the male officer, although I find it curious that the female officer is being left out for the same.

(The female officer, identified as Mary Lynn Woollum, was also accused of participating in the near-fatal beating of a homeless man in 2003, when she was a member of the SPD's black-shirted Anti-Crime Team.)

I have lived in Seattle and its environs for near twenty years. Some people are under the illusion that Seattle is a bastion of tolerance. I couldn’t agree less. Besides the “moderate” element that resides in North Seattle, in general what you find is a great deal of narcissism and opposition to institutional authority that might interfere with certain lifestyles. It is also not as integrated socially as some people might believe; Seattle is as segregated by race as any large urban center. Its lack of integration is particularly prevalent in regards to Latinos (although empirical observation suggests that an attractive Latina has certain qualities that make “integration” less problematic). Yes, they exist alright; thousands clogged downtown streets a few years ago during a Cinco de Mayo march, but other than “COPS” type coverage on the news, they are largely invisible in the social fabric. A clue to the deliberateness in the unspoken policy of social and economic exclusion can be deduced from the amusement some people seem to derive when they spy a Latino walking down the sidewalk, and the moment they pass their parked car, they activate the car alarm. Why it is amusing to demean and dehumanize a human being in this childish way says more about the failings of the perpetrator than the object, but it also demonstrates how the current wave of anti-Latino bigotry gains traction when they are viewed as outsiders and receptacles of easy prejudice.

For most of my years in Seattle, I have almost exclusively traveled by mass transit. One thing I have noticed is that I have never seen a Latino bus driver working on a King County Metro bus; judging from the deliberately rude and petty actions of a few bus drivers who put racial politics before customer service, there seems to be a culture of anti-Latino bigotry in Metro. On one occasion, I observed a driver deliberately zoom past me about forty feet before stopping at a crosswalk to let off a passenger; while I raced to catch-up to the bus, the driver slammed the door shut and hit the gas pedal. But he had to stop. Why? Because my arm was caught in the door and he was dragging me. I informed the driver that I was going to file a complaint, and after he thought about this for a moment, he spent the next ten minutes apologizing profusely. I also overheard an African-American bus driver grumble to another that Latinos must think that they are “top dog” now because their numbers surpassed African-Americans as the most numerous “minority.” Top dog of what? The social dung heap? Frankly, I don’t think that most Latinos even care or think about such a pointless “competition,” particularly when the “reward” is fighting over crumbs and being the primary object of scapegoating.

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