In recent riots, plight of Latinos ignored
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Every riot since Ferguson have prompted journalists to ask “could it happen here?”  This question usually follows with an explanation claiming no, yes, or “it did.”  The riots in Milwaukee have already enlisted the same question.  However, these articles only focus on poor Black communities because incidents of civil unrest since Ferguson have occurred in hyper-segregated cities with large impoverished Black populations.

By only examining poor Black communities, writers have ignored the reality that there are many impoverished, non-immigrant Latino communities sitting on powder kegs. Urban rebellions in Latino communities have occurred numerous times since the 1960s, and it was quite common for Blacks and Puerto Ricans to riot together. But this history appears to have been largely forgotten. 

City officials were caught off guard when “Latino riots” occurred.  The 1974 Newark Puerto Rican riots is a prime example. According to former Bloomfield University historian Michelle Chase and Newark Public Library archivist Yesenia Lopez, after the 1967 Newark riots, Blacks had gained a voice in the city. Although Puerto Ricans made up about 10 percent of the population, they were not reflected in the city’s political system or police force. They also had the highest unemployment rate at 25 percent. Years of neglect erupted into three days of rioting in September 1974 after police tried to break up a perceived illegal dice game at a local park.  In the years after the riots, the Puerto Rican community had a stronger presence in the city’s political institutions.

One particular region of the country that is vulnerable to a Latino riot is the Northeast where many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans live.  An interactive map I made on Latino urban rebellions shows that Latino communities in the region experienced the most civil unrest since 1964. 

Based off of homeownership, incarceration, poverty, and unemployment rates, 24/7 Wall Street rated the Northeast as the “worst states for Hispanics.”  Four states in the region have the highest rates of Latino imprisonment.  The unemployment rate for Latinos in Connecticut and Massachusetts are both in double digits, respectively, at 11.3 and 11 percent as of 2015. 

Several journalists have said that Philadelphia could experience urban unrest in the near future. But they have only talked about poor Black residents and never mentioned the predominately Puerto Rican community on the north side, which has had a significant presence in the city since the 1940s. In Philadelphia, Latinos have the highest poverty rate at 44 percent, the lowest high school graduation rate, and they live in some of the most violent neighborhoods such as Fairhill and Hunting Park, which are both consumed by violence because of an open-air drug market.  Philly News reported that a child born in Fairhill has a life expectancy of 71, which is lower than Iraq and Syria.  Besides police surveillance, city officials have ignored the community for decades.

Another overlooked trend in the Northeast is the out-of-state migration of low-income Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Blacks from New York City and northern New Jersey since the 1970s.  Pushed out by the increasing cost of living, these groups have settled in major and small cities throughout Pennsylvania and New England such as Allentown, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island.  In many of these cities, the expectations for affordable housing and safer communities are belittled by the reality of residential segregation, absentee landlords, inadequate employment, poor housing, poor schools, and concentrated poverty.

Of course there are other areas outside of the Northeast that could experience civil unrest.  Whether it’s Latinos in Indianapolis who have a high poverty rate and are not reflected in the city's political institutions, or Latinos in San Francisco who have been fighting against displacement and police brutality, urban unrest can happen anywhere.

It appears as with the case of West Baltimore and North Milwaukee, these communities and others like them will be ignored until they erupt in violence.  Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, in particular, are increasingly becoming an overlooked population.  Huge waves of immigrants from Mexico and Central America since the 1980s have shifted the attention of academics, journalists, and Spanish-language media to the immigrant and undocumented populations. 

Despite the ubiquitousness of Latino urban riots and civil unrest since the 1960s, the persistence to remain oblivious toward these issues is troublesome.  Discussing these issues shouldn’t be used as an attempt to undermined Black grievances, but rather to acknowledged the complexities of race relations. Failure to do so could result in more incidents of civil unrest in the future. Aaron G. Fountain Jr. writings have appeared in Al Jazeera America and the Latino Rebels. Follow him on Twitter @AaronFountainJr

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