Did you know that of the 264,298 residents of Santa Cruz County, Latinos are 32.7% or 86,425 of the population (2010 Census)? Did you know that in Supervisor District 4 the Latino population is 79% of all residents? Did you know that 30.3% of residents in Santa Cruz County speak a language (predominately Spanish) other than English in their home? I ask these questions because of a recent article in the Patch, on how Latinos Languish on Network News. One of the comments made in the article was, “The touchstone of American news is fairness, balance and objectivity”. I recently was appointed to the Santa Cruz County Latino Affairs Commission. I want to address how this Commission advocates for fairness, balance and objectivity for Latinos in Santa Cruz County.
One of the responsibilities of the Latino Affairs Commission is to, “Respond to the interests of the Latino community, including public and private agencies, on concerns and issues affecting the needs of the Latino residents in the County of Santa Cruz”. The concerns and issues of Latinos are those that affect all residents of Santa Cruz County irregardless of their ethnicity. They are education, health care, employment, housing, and safety. In addition there are concerns of immigration for those who are not native born. However, in the Patch comments to the above article there was no mention of Latinos in these areas, but instead there was much mention of Latinos in crime. Yes, crime is an issue and one of the questions that needs to be asked is, how is crime being handled among Latino youth in Santa Cruz County?
In Santa Cruz County and throughout the country Latino youth have been treated more harshly than White youth for the same category of offence. For example Latino youth are incarcerated for twice as long as White youth for non-felony offences and are one and half times more likely to be admitted to adult prisons. They are also more likely to be incarcerated two times more frequently than White Youth (Act4 Juvenile Justice). Is it because Latino youth commit more crimes than White youth? No, it is because of the decisions of where to patrol, whom to arrest, whom to charge, and whom to prosecute. And of course there is gross misrepresentation of Latino crime in the media.
It was the Latino Affairs Commission who co-facilitated a task force to address the issue of disproportionate Latino youth in the Juvenile Justice system in Santa Cruz County. They wanted to find a balance and fairness in the incarceration of Latino youth. The Commission has worked closely with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department to address issues of:
-reducing detention utilization and disparities in detention,
-implementing best practices in detention alternatives to protect safety,
-developing culturally competent programs
As a result of this work the daily Latino youth crime has been reduced 45% from 1996-2010. The Watsonville Police Department has done a tremendous job in contributing to this reduction.
As a community member if you observe issues more than just crime that you believe the Latino Affairs Commission should address, please do not hesitate to contact the Commission. Latinos are 32.7% of the Santa Cruz County community and should receive the resources available to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors.