Latinos say they also face racial profiling by police
* Latinos affected the same way that African-Americans are, activists say
* Harvard professor's recent arrest has sparked national debate on racial profiling
* Similar percentages of African-Americans, Latinos cite concern on police in 2004 poll
From Adriana Hauser
CNN (July 31, 2009)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Many Latinos say they know how Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates felt during a recent arrest because they believe police often racially profile Hispanics, too.
Gates, a noted African-American scholar, has said he was arrested at his home in large part because of his race. Police say he became disorderly when asked for identification after a report of a possible break-in.
"Professor Gates' case resonates with us because he is a prominent academic at a very prominent institution, but it is a reality that occurs on these streets every day," said Vicente Alba-Panama of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.
"In this country, when you talk about racial or ethnic problems it is always discussed in terms of black and white and other communities are excluded, such as the Latino community," he said.
A 2004 Gallup Poll found that 67 percent of African-Americans and 63 percent of Latinos believe they are the victims of police discrimination. Among whites that figure fell to 50 percent, according to the survey.
Police say they often have to make split-second decisions while staying safe.
"First, when officers arrive, they have to think of their own safety," said Anthony Miranda, executive chairman of the National Latino Officers Association of America. "Secondly, they think about public safety and from there they should make a decision. The problem is that in the discussions we are having is that officials abuse their authority."
Gates was arrested July 16 and accused of disorderly conduct after police responded to a report of a possible burglary at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home. Gates had just returned from an overseas trip and had to force his front door open because it was jammed. A passer-by notified police of a possible break-in.
Police said Gates became belligerent when asked for identification.
The charge was later dropped, but the incident sparked a national debate about racial profiling and police procedures.
President Obama added to the controversy last week when he said at a news conference that the Cambridge police had acted "stupidly."
The arrest led Cambridge officials to create a commission made up of national experts that will evaluate police practices and make recommendations to reduce improper procedures.
Obama had a beer at the White House on Thursday evening with Gates and the officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, so they could discuss the issue. The two men said afterward they planned to meet again privately.