An observant Facebooker caught this post on the county sheriff’s Facebook page Monday, complete with a typo and a healthy dose of Euro-normative, xenophobic racism.
“BUSTED!” it screams (in ALL CAPS so you know it’s real).
“These two recent immogrants (sic) from Cuba found out you don’t take merchandise from a store in America and not pay!” it continued. (Editor’s note: Sic means we know they spelled immigrants incorrectly and you need to know we know they spelled it wrong.)
According to WMC-TV, the sheriff’s department has fired the employee responsible and in a statement, apologized for the “inappropriate and insensitive comments.” But that comments are much worse than insensitive — they’re racist because they rely on the stereotype of Hispanics as criminal.
The post taps into the anti-Hispanic immigrant rhetoric that’s sweeping the country, starting at the very top, with then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s racist statement labeling most Mexicans as rapists.
Even though Hispanics can be of any race, this rhetoric imagines all Hispanic immigrants as brown and the lawless other, here to destroy America. It’s a noxious and persistent narrative that gets reinforced through anti-immigrant public policies.
Plus, the post asks the reader to believe that Cuba has no laws against theft (it does) and that immigrants who come here aren’t aware of local laws against shoplifting (they are).
But if law enforcement can get non-Hispanic people to swallow the stereotype of Hispanics as predisposed to crime, then they’re likely to support policies that hurt Hispanic immigrants, like the pending repeal of DACA and the deportation of undocumented residents, even those with no criminal records.
This does real harm to real people. After Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents raided Memphis apartment complexes where many residents are known to be Hispanic, public school officials worried that Hispanic students — even those born in this country — may not enroll in school because their parents fear deportation.
If the sheriff’s department routinely reported the nationality and immigration status of all suspects, this post would garner less side-eye.
But a quick review of the sheriff department’s Facebook page found no similar posts — say of an Irish immigrant accused of public intoxication (see that stereotype there?). Also: In America, the Irish haven’t always been white.
If Hispanic immigrants suspect that law enforcement officers are stereotyping them or that they won’t be treated fairly, they’re less likely to report crimes or cooperate with police investigations — and that makes the community less safe.
And if law enforcement’s priority is public safety, posts like this don’t help.
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