News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Latent rage

“Where are the Latino Jesse Jacksons and Al Shaprtons?” my friend Jess Badillo asked me during a book signing earlier this year. Jess’s words echoed through my mind as I learned of the slaying of a young Latino by an off-duty detective in New York City during a road rage incident.

The altercation began October 21 at 5 a.m. with two vehicles jockeying for position on FDR Drive. Behind the wheel of a Honda Civic, 25-year-old Jayson Tirado exchanged insults with plainclothes officer Sean Sawyer, 34, driving a Nissan Xterra. The angry words escalated into a chase of several blocks. After cutting off Sawyer’s vehicle, Tirado pointed his finger at Sawyer through the car window and said something about “Mr. Ruger,” a reference to a handgun according to a passenger in Tirado’s car. Sawyer then fired three shots into Tirado’s car with his police-issue handgun. Officer Sawyer then fled the scene. Tirado died at Harlem Hospital Center shortly afterward. He was unarmed.

Nineteen hours after the shooting, Officer Sawyer called for help, apparently suffering the symptoms of a heart attack. It was then Sawyer finally reported the incident. Although suspended without pay and forced to relinquish his gun and badge, unnamed sources at the Manhattan district attorney’s office told the New York Daily News that the shooting was justified. Officer Sawyer has not been charged with a crime.

This incident demonstrates the tragic consequences when an armed guardian sworn to uphold the law loses control. But there is another facet to this tragedy. It also underscores the role of Latino activism.

Imagine for a moment that the victim of this shooting had been African-American. Doubtless the public outcry from leaders like Jackson and Sharpton would have been instantaneous. So far, no Hispanic leaders have uttered a word. Does this mean no one in the Latino community is outraged?

A public outcry is a form of venting. Like the pent up tectonic forces that create the most violent earthquakes, latent rage can be devastating. Perhaps silence is the most frightening scenario.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez