Killing in Washington State Offers ‘Ferguson’ Moment for Hispanics

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PASCO, Wash. — Members of the Zambrano family began arriving here three decades ago, picking apples in nearby orchards. Over time they have become part of the fabric of this harvesting town, growing to more than 50 and settling in tiny candy-colored homes, some ringed by white picket fences.

Then, last week, one of their own was killed by the police, his death caught in a video that has sped around the Internet. Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, is shown running from three Pasco officers. He turns and swings his hands upward, before he is felled by a spray of bullets, his body slamming the concrete. He had been throwing rocks at cars and police officers.

It was the third killing by the Pasco police since July, and the video has brought international attention, with a flurry of online commenters criticizing the use of force against a man without a gun or a knife, making comparisons to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

It has drawn condemnation from the president of Mexico and multiple investigations, including inquiries by a task force of local police agencies, by the county coroner and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An official from the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Washington has also called community leaders, assuring them that the shooting will get a thorough review, which may include an examination of police training and whether it played a role.

But here in Pasco, a city of 68,000 that is 56 percent Hispanic, the public killing has pierced the immigrant enclave, spurring protests that have attracted hundreds and highlighting a division between the city’s increasingly Latino populace and its power structure — the police, the city government — which remains largely white.

While many Hispanics have found work and stable, if not particularly affluent, lives here, the killing has drawn attention to their lack of clout. And, as with blacks in Ferguson, it has intensified feelings among Hispanics that they remain second-tier residents, despite their deep roots here, defined by the many Latino shops that now dominate the main thoroughfare, Lewis Street.

“They had him like a deer, hunting him,” said Maria Paniagua, 41, a resident with six children. “What happens when one of my kids gets in a jam and runs. Will they shoot him down?”

Though Latino workers have been here since at least the 1960s, attracted by jobs gathering fruit and asparagus in the region’s vast fields, few have moved into law enforcement or city government. Of the city’s 68 officers, 14 are Hispanic. A dozen officers speak Spanish fluently, and some residents cite language barriers that complicate interactions with the police. The City Council has one Latino member. The five-member school board, which oversees a system that is 70 percent Latino, typically has one or two Latino members, but this year has none.

“People are finally getting their feelings out through this whole Antonio issue,” said Alicia Coria, 18, a former neighbor of Mr. Zambrano-Montes’s who moderated a recent protest, guiding a sea of Latino residents through local streets, signs and fists held high. “The Hispanic community is finally trying to have the power.”

All three officers involved in last week’s shooting have been placed on paid leave. One of them, Adrian Alaniz, a Pasco native, is Hispanic.

The shooting has caused soul-searching among some city officials, who, even as they urge the residents to wait for the results of an investigation, say the protests have uncovered anger bubbling below the surface.

“This was about more than just Antonio,” said City Manager Dave Zabell, who took over the job last August. “It’s part of a community emerging,” he continued, “and frankly, it’s welcomed.”

Mr. Zambrano-Montes was raised in Michoacán, Mexico. He came to the United States about a decade ago to work in the orchards, said family members, who described him as both caring — guiding newly arrived relatives — and troubled. His wife obtained a protection order against him several years ago, they said, alleging that he had abused her. She, along with their two daughters, eventually moved to California. Mr. Zambrano-Montes was in the country illegally and did not speak English.

He was arrested for assaulting a police officer in January 2014. The police said he had thrown objects at officers and tried to grab an officer’s pistol. He pleaded guilty in June.

In recent months he was out of work and appeared increasingly depressed and disoriented, his aunts and cousins said, after falling from a ladder in an apple orchard and breaking both his wrists. Then, in January, he was trapped in a house fire where he was renting a room, which burned his belongings.

“What I know is that he was alone, that his wife had left him, that he couldn’t see his daughters,” said his cousin Pedro Farias, 32. “I don’t know what his reasons were” for throwing rocks at the police, “but I know all of this affected him.”

There are some Hispanics who hold prominent positions in Pasco. Saul Martinez is a council member. Eight of 20 Pasco schools are headed by Latino principals.

And the Police Department said that it had worked to recruit Hispanic officers in recent years, recognizing the need to reach the group. An Explorer program is one of several recruitment efforts. Intended to train residents ages 14 to 21 in police practices, it has 15 enrollees, all but two or three of whom are Hispanic, said Capt. Ken Roske.

Still, despite deep roots here, Hispanics have struggled to break into the city’s highest echelons. Community leaders cite several reasons, including apathy, lack of English skills and education, and the fact that many Latinos are not citizens and cannot vote.

“There are so many barriers, not only linguistic but psychological, that act like an obstacle,” said Gabriel Portugal, 61, a former vice principal who came to Pasco from Mexico in the 1970s. He is now part of a community group called Consejo Latino, which lobbies the municipality for changes that will help immigrants and their children.

The video has been a near constant presence here in recent days, played repeatedly on television news in crowded taco shops and bakeries, each time drawing the gaze of those perched over plates of pupusas or pan dulce. Reyes Juarez, 54, said that she had slept little since viewing it, imagining her own son gunned down each time she shuts her eyes.

“It’s like having the badge gives you the right to take the life of a Mexican,” she said.

The killing of Mr. Zambrano-Montes has also drawn attention to past accusations of police misconduct. One officer involved in the shooting, Ryan Flanagan, was a defendant in a 2012 lawsuit in which he was accused of using excessive force in 2009 against Maria Davila-Marquez, then 30.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Davila-Marquez was walking to pick up her children from child care after work when Officer Flanagan stopped her, somehow confusing her with a teenage suspect. When she requested an interpreter, he refused, said her lawyer, Vito de la Cruz. Another officer arrived, he said, and Ms. Davila-Marquez’s hands were twisted behind her back and her face was shoved onto the hood of the hot car, causing burns.

The police chief exonerated both officers, saying their conduct was appropriate, Mr. De la Cruz said. The city settled the suit for $100,000.

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