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“¡Ya Basta! - Enough is Enough!: Education and Violence in the Context of our Schools, Community Safety, and Law-Enforcement"

Living a life free from violence is a basic human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet no community is free of the substantial harm and deleterious behavioral and psychological consequences that are associated with exposure to violence, especially when it is rooted in dehumanization.

It is not hyperbole to trace mass violence in this country, on this continent, to 1492. This is a reality for indigenous peoples and other people of color, though for mainstream America, amnesia works better, living with the fantasy that European settler colonies brought civilization to the Western Hemisphere. Dehumanization means viewing and treating people as less than human or not human at all; from first contact, the peoples that settler colonial states encountered in the Western Hemisphere were considered savages and ungodly. In fact, their knowledge and beliefs were considered demonic. That was the religio-secular attitude brought here in 1492 and demonstrably, an attitude that continues to permeate society to this day, which is manifested on a daily basis, virtually by every societal institution, though most specifically by institutions that have the power to violently end lives.

Today, violent acts take various forms, including armed conflicts, gang violence, parent-to-child physical aggression (e.g., corporal punishment), terrorism, forced displacement, state violence, vigilante violence, mass incarceration, segregation, exclusion, silence, and invisibilization. Exposure to violence can be direct, e.g., being the victim of a violent act, or indirect, e.g., hearing about violence or witnessing violence involving others, which often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it can be well argued that for indigenous, people of color, and other marginalized peoples, there is no "post" trauma. The trauma is historic and intergenerational, but it is also present in everyday life today.

Social violence affects us at different levels and in many ways - physically, socially and emotionally.  Community violence is defined as a series of deliberate acts intended to cause physical harm against a person in the community, though also, an action that harms entire peoples and communities. That is what also undergirds hate crimes; such violence is intended to intimidate entire communities and peoples, not just individuals. That is the rationale as to why hate crimes carry more severe and enhanced penalties. Families and children exposed to violence are more likely to experience severe, uncontrollable and chronic stress, which affects their ability to react to stressful situations and it is likely to be passed on to future generations.

To understand the full meaning or importance, violence is not limited to just shootings and lethal force by law-enforcement. Indigenous and people of color have always been subjected to violence as a means of social control, including vicious beatings, kidnappings, harassment, false charges and false imprisonment, torture, etc. This violence does not solely carry lethal intention, but is meant to silence, intimidate, and control entire groups and peoples. In part, that’s why the United States has the largest prison system in the world, and not ironically, many wind up in prison, precisely for having been brutalized by law-enforcement. Also, not to be forgotten is that violence on the U.S.-Mexico border is more extreme than most people know because it involves official and state-sanctioned violence by federal agents, and always with impunity. But it also includes the thousands of people that die in the desert, mountains and rivers due to official policies that are cognizant that these deaths will occur, with hopes of deterring other migrants.

As a social phenomenon violence affects us all, but especially racially segregated and high-poverty neighborhoods. Violence takes lives and leaves a lasting legacy of trauma. The physical, emotional, and financial pain from violence cascades from individuals to their families and communities, including children. Violence takes on many forms - be it physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual. This has a long-lasting impact on the lives and future of our communities and societies. Perhaps the best example of such living trauma is the failure to recognize POCs as full human beings with corresponding full human rights, and this especially includes the subhuman category of “illegal aliens,” this in reference to peoples and populations who are actually Indigenous to these lands.

The Long, Forgotten History and Trauma: Although all communities and families are affected, Chicanos/Latinos/Indigenous ("Raza") are disproportionately at risk for victimization. There is a long and largely forgotten history of state-sanctioned violence against POCs, which includes Brown peoples - against Latinos and Indigenous peoples.  

This story goes as far back as October 12, 1492, when Columbus’ expedition made landfall in the Americas. That historic event laid the foundation pillar for what followed, genocide, land theft, human trafficking, mass rape, enslavement and other forms of racial violence that had never before been experienced. That lasted at least 300 years of violent and oppressive colonialism, but the violence and oppression did not actually end. For Raza, another chapter of violence and discrimination largely began in 1848, when Mexico forcibly ceded 55 percent of its territory as a result of the unprovoked War against Mexico of 1846-1848. Through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which marked the war’s end, the Mexicans who stayed in what was now U.S. territory were granted citizenship and the country gained a considerable Mexican American population. Legally, they were equal, but history tells us something different, especially in the realm of land theft, violence, lynchings and dejure and defacto segregation and discrimination.

It is important to note that the history that accounts for the basis of the trauma came in a variety of direct and indirect means by the dominant culture in its attempt to “conquer” the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual identity of the Indigenous Mexican and mixed-blood peoples, and is rarely recognized in the research literature (other peoples of the Americas also share this long history of settler colonization and colonialism). History records a literal genocide resulting in over 50 million men, women and children being killed or dying due to war and conditions of war and disease - up to 95% of the population. Within just a few generations, the continents of the Americas were virtually emptied of their native inhabitants.

That history includes millions being subjugated in socio-economic subservience; and many thousands of women and children raped. This is compounded by a cultural genocide where sacred writings, historical documents, laws and codes of conduct, sacred sites, and art were destroyed… along with the distortion and disharmony of traditional values, customs, ceremonies, and spiritual teachings. And again, not hyperbole, but the recent battles over Raza/Indigenous and Ethnic Studies and Critical Race Theory are modern versions of these anti-education “initiatives,” advanced by those who are determined to censor any narrative that falls outside of Providence, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism. These knowledges and teachings were seen as demonic during the colonial era, and anti-American in the United States during the current era.

The Continuum of Violence: School segregation, lynchings and mass deportations of U.S. citizens are also some of the injustices. One example of the many lynchings on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, in 1918, a group of Texas Rangers and the state police, collaborated with U.S. soldiers and local vigilantes to surround and massacre the ranching community of Porvenir. Despite investigations by the state, by Mexican diplomats, and by the U.S. military, none were prosecuted. Many of the lynchings against Mexicans were motivated by sheer hate, but also, as a means to wrest control of the land, i.e., land theft. The entire history of Indigenous peoples in this country and hemisphere vis-à-vis settler colonialism is land theft, genocide and slavery. And just as boarding schools in Canada and the United States were used to de-Indigenize Native children, so too the project of “reducciones” throughout the Americas whose intent via the 300 years of the mission system - via forced conversions - was to "kill the Indian, save the man" forcing civil and religious control and hegemony over populations.

For Mexicans, periodic mass deportations since the late 1910s is also a significant part of their history. Olvera Street is a Los Angeles icon, but in 1931, police officers grabbed Mexican Americans in the area and shoved them into waiting vans. Immigration agents blocked exits and arrested around 400 people, who were then deported to Mexico, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. There was also Operation Wetback of the 1950s, though those operations continued into the 1970s and never have actually ended with the deportation of many millions. 

Also, in 1943, for a week, thousands of U.S. sailors and vigilantes marched through downtown Los Angeles and the Eastside, carrying clubs and other makeshift weapons and attacking anyone wearing a “zoot suit”- the baggy wool pants, oversized coats and porkpie hats favored by many youngsters at the time. Those arrested were those that were attacked, members of the Mexican American community. The history of POCs in this country cannot be told without teaching about racial profiling, mass arrests, mass imprisonment, and extreme mass violence (read 1940s era Sleepy Lagoon incident and trials).

In the 19th century, political events in Mexico made emigration to the United States a necessity. While this was welcome news to U.S. employers like the Southern Pacific Railroad which desperately needed cheap labor to help build new tracks, the railroad and other companies flouted existing immigration laws that banned importing contracted labor and sent recruiters into Mexico to convince Mexicans to emigrate. But anti-Mexican and anti-Latino sentiment grew along with immigration and Latinos were barred entry into Anglo establishments and segregated into barrios and other poor areas.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the estimates of Mexicans and Latinos killed by mobs reach well into the thousands. Violence swelled during California’s Gold Rush just after California became part of the United States as white miners begrudged former Mexicans a share of the wealth yielded by Californian mines - and sometimes enacted vigilante justice. Many Chinese and Chinese communities often faced the same fate in both the United States and Northern Mexico.

The Continuum of Victimization: Although Latinos have always been vital (aka "essential workers") to the U.S. economy and often were American citizens, everything from their language to the color of their skin to their countries of origin could be used as a pretext for discrimination. Anglo-Americans also treated them as less than human, as a foreign underclass and perpetuated stereotypes that those who spoke Spanish were lazy, stupid and undeserving. In many cases, that prejudice turned fatal. And this is not something that has gone away.

Some of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history have occurred in Latino communities. In 2019 a white supremacist allegedly drove 11 hours to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and began shooting shoppers. The deadly domestic terrorist attack ultimately killed 23 people and injured 23 more. Further investigation revealed that the assailant targeted Latinos in what he described as an attempt to stop a “Hispanic invasion”.  It virtually mimicked the 1984 massacre by another white vigilante, who killed 21 and injured 19 Mexicans at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California.

All POCs share that history. The history of official violence against Indigenous-Black-Brown peoples is perhaps better known and it is current, not just historic. But what is perhaps less known is the rising vigilante violence against Asian peoples, fueled lately by the anti-Chinese climate that the former president has stirred up since he began running for office in 2015. And that vigilante violence against these communities and against all POCs, continues to rise.

School Shootings and Rethinking Violence in the Educational Crisis: Violence is not only a critical public health issue but intersects with education in epic proportions and is a barrier to education. While every child has the right to safety and security that makes learning possible and fulfilling, millions of girls and boys experience violence in and around schools - on the way to school, on school grounds, and within classrooms. Evidence and data have clearly shown that violence in and around schools - in its various forms - has detrimental impacts on a child’s well-being and educational attainment. When children cannot learn in a safe and secure environment, they are unable to reach their full potential and are less likely to thrive and develop essential life skills to gain social and economic stability in the future. 

The close-knit community of Uvalde, Texas experienced the shocking loss of 19 children and two teachers in 2022 after an 18-year-old armed with an assault rifle opened fire at Robb Elementary School in the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Schools that are not safe or inclusive violate the right to education as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and contravene the Convention against Discrimination in Education, which aims to eliminate discrimination and promote the adoption of measures that ensure equality of opportunity and treatment. Those rights are also contained in the 2007 UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was invoked by Raza-Indigenous students during the Raza Studies struggle in Arizona of the previous decade.

Another form of violence is the imposition of identities against Mexican/Central American peoples (primarily from Maize-based ancestral cultures), something we/they have historically faced and have had to contend with in the United States. This also is true for the culturally distinct peoples from the rest of the Americas. These identities are rooted in dehumanization and extreme racism. For example, designating Indigenous and Indigenous-based peoples (albeit mix-raced, de-tribalized and de-indigenized) as White is extreme spiritual violence. It has the effect of disappearing Indigenous peoples from the country and continent. It is another form of cultural genocide.

Poverty, Community Safety, and the Devastating-Disproportionate Impact: And while the causes and consequences of violence are many-faceted, they are not random phenomenon, but rather follow patterns. Families and communities living in poverty are often relegated to neighborhoods where the underground economy and certain forms of crime like gambling, prostitution, and the fairly widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs (and the marketing of those substances to the Indigenous-Black-Brown communities of this country, will often be more tolerated and allowed by the police and other authorities provided as those who control such doings confine their business to those zones. 

Police are often less likely to be visible in such neighborhoods and communities, and the officers are less likely to be recruited from there. Further, it is not uncommon that they are more likely to respond slowly to requests for service, and as strangers to the communities they serve, may often tend to possess negative stereotypes of the residents and therefore often indiscriminate in their treatment of them. Their lack of familiarity with such communities provides them with no basis for distinguishing between hardened criminals and law-abiding citizens. And the color of the officers often does not matter, as once institutionalized, many often become, but blue.

Law Enforcement and Lethal Force: Not only do such zones have higher rates of violence, but they also experience greater incidents of law-enforcement brutality, harassment, and deaths. Currently there is no accurate count of killings of Chicanos/Latinos/Indigenous ("Raza") by those in a law enforcement capacity in the United States. The same is true for other POCs. Although Congress instructed the Attorney General in 1994 to compile and publish annual statistics on police use of excessive force, this was never carried out, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not collect these data either. Simply, there is no good official data. In its place are multiple and incomplete lists published by various non-governmental organizations and agencies, but most often the numbers show how many total killings per year are recorded in the lists, not the actual number of people killed by law enforcement. 

Although many current listings document the occurrence of a death, they make no implications regarding wrongdoing or justification on the part of the person killed or officer involved. The data is extremely flawed with respect to age, race–ethnicity, and sex. There's no standardization of how people are labeled and there's no centralization. There is neither any law enforcement accountability nor is there any justice for the families that have experienced these horrors. This is further compounded by the fact that Brown peoples are rarely mentioned when discussing violent police treatment. We need to understand that the police often have near 100% impunity and are so rarely held accountable for killings; all they have to say is that they feared for their life. The problem is that these killings are way out of proportion in relation to any other forms of death. The thing to remember is that all unjustified killings are wrong and should be punished. What also needs to be remembered is that the killing of People of Color is different in the sense that racial profiling is very much a determining factor. Bodies and communities are profiled resulting in extreme numbers of killings/deaths, numbers that one does not find in other countries, such as in Europe. The deaths often are not random but targeted at those considered less than human. The thing about racial profiling is that it isn’t simply about race or color, but also language and last names. One salient feature about all databases examined is that Brown peoples are often shoved into either the "unknown" or the "White" racial categories, and often also, unidentified altogether, resulting in huge undercounts and thus, invisibilization.

Confronting the Invisibility and Vulnerability: In all the forms of violence aforementioned, we as a society just move on to other things. But neither the victims, the families, nor the communities are able to move on. They aren't ever able to fully heal because of historical and intergenerational memory, and the current reality of the targeting of peoples from communities of color.

Although Latinos or Brown peoples represent one in five Americans today and are projected to account for nearly one in three Americans by 2060, there is little to no public dialogue that accurately represents who we are and what we contribute to this nation. This is despite the fact that as of 1998, Latino children, numerically, became the largest minority student demographic in U.S. public schools. Also, in 2003, Latinos were recognized, numerically, as the largest minority group in the United States, but still an invisibilized population except on issues of crime. Combined with the rising numbers of People of Color in this country, all this points to political and racial apartheid, not for the future, but the present.

We are locked into the primary "Black and White" social imagination despite the fact that settler colonies first enslaved Native peoples, shortly thereafter forcefully relocated millions of stolen Africans to the Americas, inhumanely enslaving millions of peoples for hundreds of years. Another common one-dimensional narrative is that Latinos are immigrants who don’t speak English and take jobs from “real” Americans. Most people from Mexico and Central America - which constitute the majority of Latinos - are Indigenous-based peoples, but also, and especially in the rest of the Americas, with a strong admixture of African peoples.

Latinos' invisibility is also a significant contributing factor to our disproportionately high rates of cases, hospitalization, and death during COVID-19, as well as why we have not been adequately emphasized or addressed by media, public health experts, researchers, or government officials. It is critical to recognize the legacy of conquest, annexation of ancestral lands in the Southwest, and the prolonged subjugation of native cultures, along with an ongoing history of racial discrimination, socio-economic marginalization, and draconian immigration practices.

Potential and Promise: Let's consider the role of education in mitigating crime, violence, discipline and safety. Proper education can prevent conflict and holds the promise of promoting peace at the individual level and at the societal level. Education and safety from violence can no longer be thought of as separate entities. As decision makers around the world look to respond to the compounding crises of the pandemic, conflict, climate and poverty; families of the deceased, survivors of brutality, community leaders and social justice advocates, researchers and academics, data analysts and demographers, and multiple national-level collaborative partners must all come together. 

Battling against systemic violence in all its forms must be at the heart of our efforts to build back better and safer, especially for the children, ensuring that we are able to go about daily life without the presence or threat of physical, social, sexual or emotional violence.  This includes becoming conscious of the violence against women of color. The efforts surrounding Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and girls also applies to African American and migrant women. That violence is also related to law-enforcement and other judicial system violence in that death and violence occur within the environment of impunity. The common denominator is dehumanization. If the judicial system does not investigate, it will not prosecute nor convict the murder or disappearances of people of color because they do not see POCs as fully human.

This is an extraordinarily difficult time. We sense that we stand on the hinges or at an inflection point in history. We were already living through the COVID pandemic when searing racial violence - a second pandemic of violence - convulsed the nation. We stand in solidarity with all communities experiencing the effects of violence and in advocating and building a common, anti-racist future, we must forever bear in mind that racism and violence are not completely unavoidable but are animated by the countless actions, expectations, and decisions we take in our everyday lives.

In the early 1960s, famed Los Angeles Times reporter, Ruben Salazar, who himself was killed by LA Sheriff’s deputies at the National Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War, wrote that Mexican Americans were tired of being referred to as “The Sleeping Giant.” The truth is, our communities, like all marginalized groups, have never been asleep. If anything, we’ve been silenced, disappeared, and invisiblized. That time is over...

How can we do better? How do we come out of this? 

If the legacy of trauma can be passed down, or inherited, between and through generations; then so can the healing. 

Join us in saying "Enough is Enough" to Violence - ¡Ya Basta!