Police shootings of civilians in Portland and Seattle have received a lot of attention, and yet such violence is something we have almost come to expect in an urban setting. The death of an unarmed Hispanic man in a confrontation with three officers in Pasco, Wash., is somehow more shocking, perhaps because we picture human relations outside big cities as providing some degree of immunity to official violence.
There have been four fatal police shootings in the southeastern Washington city since last July. Other eye-catching statistics include only one Hispanic city council member in a community that is 56 percent Hispanic, and 15 Hispanic members in a 67-officer police department.
Antonio Zambrano-Montes’ death last week wasn’t an unusual outlier in this scenario of unbalanced power, but an accidental cause célèbre because a bystander happened to video record the shooting and events immediately leading up to it. As with the August 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Zambrano-Montes cannot be said to be completely blameless: He appears to have been throwing rocks at cars in the street shortly before police arrived. He started to run away when they confronted him. But what he was doing did not merit a spontaneous imposition of the death penalty by police. He was unarmed, open-handed, arms partially raised as bullets ripped his life away.
Pasco isn’t that far removed from Umatilla County. Hispanic leaders there have called for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate, and it should. Complete objectivity and thorough professionalism are essential to begin healing the massive distrust that has blown up in the Hispanic population of Pasco. The current investigation by a special investigative unit comprised of officers in surrounding communities is nowhere near credible, particularly after absolving Pasco officers of all blame in the three previous fatal shootings.
Beyond advocating for justice, police reform and political empowerment in a small city in our region, this case should interest all of us because it suggests a general need to do a much better job bringing Hispanic residents into local power structures. It is important for that community to assert itself.
Civic leaders, including senior law officers should build connections with immigrant and low-income communities to build understanding before shootings occur — not as some dismal and half-hearted reaction afterward.