The Crusader Newspaper Group

Co-founder of Black Lives Matter: “Black immigrants face even more problems than other races”

By Opal Tometi and Carl Lipscombe,

“I called you to help me, but you killed my brother.” The cries of loved ones, like this quote from the sister of Alfred Olango, a 38-year-old Ugandan refugee who was shot and killed by police last month in California, have become a familiar part of a notorious scene. Too often a call for help ends with the murder of an unarmed black person at the hands of law enforcement.

During the past few weeks, the police killings of Tyre King, Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott have spurred yet another wave of protests needless shootings and solemn vigils that unite communities experiencing grief. But Olango’s case is different—not just because it received scant attention—but because it raises a challenge that the country has yet to adequately address: the criminalization of black migrants.

Olango arrived in the U.S. as a child refugee from Uganda in 1991. His family lived in a refugee camp after fleeing war and persecution. Olango’s mother describes him as a “good, loving, young man,” who enjoyed soccer and cooking. He worked in manufacturing and as a cook and hoped to eventually open his own restaurant.

These dreams came to an end when El Cajon police shot Olango outside of a strip mall within one minute of arriving at the scene. Olango’s sister had called the police because she said she was worried about his safety.

After the shooting, the police were quick to point out Olango’s criminal record. He had been arrested previously for alleged non-violent offenses, including a drug offense and a driving under the influence conviction, and faced deportation on two occasions. Olango was detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a period but was released in compliance with a Supreme Court ruling barring indefinite detention of immigrants whose countries do not grant travel documents or permission to return.

As a result of a set of laws passed in 1996, nearly two dozen criminal and noncriminal offenses, including drug offenses, can subject immigrants to deportation. According to a report entitled The State of Black Immigrants, recently released by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, these laws disproportionately affect black migrants. In fact, despite making up only 7% of the U.S. immigrant population, black immigrants comprise 21% of those facing deportation as a result of contact with the criminal justice system. And black immigrants make up a rising share of black people experiencing criminalization at the hands of police, immigration, and other law enforcement agencies.

Just 30 miles away from the strip mall where Olango was killed, thousands of Haitian migrants fleeing harsh conditions could face ICE detention.

Olango’s case is strikingly similar to that of David Felix, an unarmed Haitian immigrant who was killed by police officers in New York City last year. Felix had also spent time in an ICE detention facility and was ultimately released. After the shooting, police officers suggested that Felix was uncontrollable, aggressive and uncooperative due to a mental illness.

“Yes, we are refugees,” Olango’s mother said. “But that doesn’t justify that we should be killed because of being refugees … I didn’t know that the next time it would be me.”


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