Law Conference Explores Latinos and Criminal Justice Daylong event focuses on impact of bias and stereotyping within the legal system on outcomes for Latinos

By Gabriela Solis

A recent UCLA conference sought to fill a knowledge gap about how Latinos interact with the criminal justice system.

With themes such as policing of Latinx communities, community organizing, adjudication and norms, ethics and constitutional culture, the Feb. 8, 2019, conference held at the UCLA School of Law combined the resources of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), UCLA Law Review and the Bruin X Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Community advocates, scholars, staff, undergraduates and graduate students heard from a variety of experts, including several UCLA faculty members associated with LPPI.

The first panel, moderated by UCLA Law Professor Laura Gómez, sought to establish the context for discussion of Latinos and the criminal justice system.

“Latino-ness is very contingent,” said Victoria Plaut, professor of law and social science at UC Berkeley, referring to common generalizations about their characteristics. “Latinos are hardworking but lazy; family-oriented but not warm.”

Plaut, a clinical psychologist, shared findings from her research of the psychological processes relevant to diversity and inclusion in legal, educational and workplace settings to highlight the beliefs that often frame Latino experiences.

The panel included Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o studies, and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history and African American studies. They spoke about the importance of collecting both qualitative and quantitative data, especially because data from criminal justice entities can be unreliable and inconsistent.

Another panel, moderated by Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, focused on the policing of Latinx communities. During this panel, Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, shared her expertise on this issue, the subject of her award-winning book “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Armenta’s ethnographic research in Nashville, Tennessee, studied the role of local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement. She described how the logic and culture of policing negatively affected Latino immigrant neighborhoods. Police were incentivized to make as many stops as possible and pull over as many people as possible, Armenta said.

Sonja Diaz, executive director of LPPI, moderated a panel that explored successful methods of organizing communities to change laws, with a focus on direct democracy as a vehicle for criminal justice reform.

Panelist Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, shared his successful experiences with Florida’s Proposition 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative.  Passage of the initiative restored the right to vote for people in Florida with prior felony convictions.

Cartagena stressed that it is important for individuals with personal experience to participate as leaders in a movement. He also urged organizers to think strategically about how to frame the problem, which he said was essential in the Florida campaign’s victory. The campaign’s focus on second chances resonated well with Florida voters, Cartagena said.

All panels provided a unique perspective on how Latinos fare in the criminal justice system — a sorely under-researched topic, especially by legal scholars.

Learn more about Latinos and the criminal justice system.

Diaz Explores Repercussions of National Emergency Over Border Wall

Sonja Diaz, director of the UCLA Luskin-based Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle about the potential political repercussions of declaring a national emergency to secure funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, an action that President Trump is contemplating. Declaring an emergency would allow Trump to secure funding for the wall without congressional approval. This action may please Trump’s current base; but it could also benefit Democrats by ending the government shutdown triggered by the budget battle over border security while allowing them to keep the campaign against the wall alive. Diaz commented on the impact that building the wall may have on Trump’s chances of reelection. “In 2020, states like Arizona and Texas [with surging Latino turnout] are going to be critical,” she said. “This is going to be very impactful on who they choose on that ballot.”


Diaz on Fruitvale Village’s Socioeconomic Development

Founding Director of UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) Sonja Diaz spoke to Block Club Chicago about the socioeconomic changes in Fruitvale Village in Oakland, Calif. Diaz said Fruitvale Village made economic gains without losing the majority-Latino population. Meaningful community engagement, development projects and strong social services will likely result in economic gains, she said. Diaz pointed to Fruitvale’s social services — La Clinica, the public library and the senior center — as crucial to upward mobility. “There is evidence to show that this type of development works and that you get a high return of investment while ensuring that people are able to stay in their communities [where] they likely spent generations,” Diaz explained.


 

LPPI Takes Center Stage in Coverage of Latino Vote

As results rolled in from the November 2018 midterm elections, a team of researchers from the Latino Politics and Policy Initiative (LPPI) provided real-time analysis to assess how the country’s fastest-growing voting bloc impacted the outcome of major contests. Among other findings, the UCLA Luskin-based LPPI reported that Latino voter participation saw a striking increase compared to the 2014 midterms. LPPI followed up with a report detailing its analysis of election results in six states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Texas. A forum co-hosted by LPPI and the Aspen Institute Latinos in Society Program delved into the results before a crowd of 175 people, as well as a live stream audience. And LPPI experts were widely cited in election coverage by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NPR, NBC News and many other outlets.