The names Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and (most recently) Freddie Gray have become synonymous with police brutality, igniting a flurry of demonstrations nationwide and even sparking an iconic phrase. “Black lives matter,” a recent Time Magazine cover story blared in all-caps, after the North Charleston police department’s fatal shooting of Walter Scott was caught on video.
But there was no such headline for Antonio Zambrano-Montes, an undocumented migrant worker from Michoacán, Mexico, whose death at the hands of police two months prior to Scott’s was similarly captured by a bystander’s cellphone.
While the brazen killing of Zambrano-Montes spurred outrage in Pasco, Washington where the events transpired, the story never really made it out of the North West. It seems that the Zambrano-Montes death did not meet the criteria for the Black Lives Matter media narrative; neither, for that matter, did those of Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez-Lopez.
“We have suffered the same kinds of indignities as African-Americans. But you would never know that unless you do a search,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
It’s true. And the lack of equivalent response begs the question: What (at least as far as the media are concerned) distinguishes the value of a black life from that of a brown one?
Nogales thinks it’s possible that the reason is as simple as a force of habit.
“It’s an age-old dialogue between black and white that has often excluded or minimized or not paid as much attention to brown,” he said.
But Nogales also acknowleges the media’s role in not only reflecting the state of society, but in shaping it.
“The media chooses who they want to represent,” he continued.
Joaquin Avila, a voting rights attorney and expert from Seattle, Washington believes the problem is part of a much larger issue of how Latinos are represented or, perhaps more accurately, not represented in the media.
A recent Media Matters study would seem to confirm this. According to the study, not only do Latinos make up fewer than seven percent of guests on broadcast news (despite accounting for 17 percent of the population), when they do appear, it’s mostly to discuss immigration.
“They pigeonhole us into a one-dimensional community group that’s only focused on the issue,” Avila said.
So the general lack of Latinos in the national media dialogue, at a time when our numbers are greater than ever, suggests an answer as to why names like Nieto and Perez-Lopez don’t resonate as soundly as the names Brown and Garner.
And the under-representation of Latinos in the media will only grow in proportion as our demographic continues to increase relative to the general population.
NHMC has called for meetings with CNN as well as other national news stations to discuss the lack of Latino guests and correspondents.
Nogales is quick to point out that lack of Latino recognition in media is not the fault of the black community or the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s up to us,” he said. “We have to be the ones that call attention to the fact that Latinos are getting killed, in the big numbers that we’re getting killed. When everything is said and done, we can’t continue to blame anybody for not being included in the dialogue.”
It is up to us. As ethnic media, the responsibility is ours to cover what commercial and mainstream news outlets blatantly choose to ignore. It’s our responsibility to force ourselves into the national consciousness. It’s on us to show that our numbers don’t just count come election season. And maybe then, they’ll realize that our lives matter too.