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Monday, 1.16.06: Latino observation

It's Martin Luther King Day -- a national holiday, and maybe the best day to contemplate the rise of minority groups through American generations.

With my current window on the criminal justice system, I'm suddenly aware of the Hispanic population in our community.

Oh, I've known for some time that Latinos were the "fastest growing minority" here. But the statistics weren't real to me. When I used to work for the Institution, Latinos were invisible. Why was that? Immigrants and citizens up from Puerto Rico were poor and poverty breeds troubled children, so why weren't they appearing in our caseloads? We made up reasons... they kept things in the family, etc. But the truth was that the Institution was not Spanish-friendly. Hiring of Spanish-speaking staff and certainly of Latino administrators was something to put in the long-range plan, something to worry about in the distant future.

The future is here.

But the future is here. It seems like most of the police officers we see have Spanish surnames. And a disproportionate number of defendants do too.

Police work is an entry point for a new immigrant wave. Think of the Irish. If you're poor, you see a lot of crime and a lot of cops -- it's a career path, tough but proud.

Convictions are also the unfortunate result of being poor. It's not that poor people are more corrupt, but they are less educated and, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they get arrested. And not having the means or the savvy to lawyer up, they say too much and find themselves being pushed through the system.

The Irish took a similar path and for a long time were considered to be another race, certainly not white. It will be interesting now to be more observant of the Latino nature of our community.

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