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I Am Puerto Rican and Black Lives Matter

I Am Puerto Rican and Black Lives Matter

Article Author: 

Juan Cartagena

Juan Cartagena
President & General Counsel

"There is an urgent need today … to analyze the intersection of police reforms, changes in the penal system and drug policy in this country. In reality, Latinos are disproportionately and negatively affected by police and criminal system practices that discriminate against them but rarely involve them in forging solutions."

One of the nation’s leading voices on equality and nondiscrimination, Constitutional and Civil Rights Attorney Juan Cartagena inspires change to systems that marginalize communities of color. As a public speaker, El Diario columnist, and Rutgers University lecturer, Juan focuses extensively on Puerto Rican and Latino rights issues, including the community impacts of mass incarceration.

Juan is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University School of Law and is the recipient of multiple recognitions, including Dartmouth College’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Social Justice Award, and the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute’s Cesar Chavez Community Service Award. Juan lives in and represents the State of New Jersey, having previously served as a Municipal Court Judge in Hoboken and as General Counsel to the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey.

You can read Juan Cartagena's bi-weekly column in El Diario here.

Have a question for him or a thought about his articles? Tweet him @LJCartagena!


In 2013, immediately after a jury in Florida exonerated George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, three Black women created a new movement on social media.

This was the genesis of the digital movement called #BlackLivesMatter which was inaugurated on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Hundreds of thousands of persons repeated the phrase, many of them as a way to signal that the treatment of people of color, especially by the police, was at a crisis stage. Others embraced the phrase as a marker of hope for a community victimized by racism.

Indeed, what started with the leadership of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, captured the attention of the nation. They never claimed that the lives of other people were not important. So I must say that I am Puerto Rican and black lives matter.

Afterwards came the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in Charleston and Sandra Bland in Texas, and many others. Now the saying became an educational vehicle in the Black community to expose the daily crisis that would now be revealed by video footage taken by courageous witnesses.

The movement never advocated for violence against the police. That clarification was worth noting so I must say that I am Latino and black lives matter.

The digital movement initially and deservedly focused on police brutality. But soon #BlackLivesMatter also questioned the institutional racism that continues to marginalize people of color, the mass incarceration that destroys Black families and the failure of immigration reform with its particularly harmful effects for immigrants of color from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. If the deaths of Black civilians at the hands of police was the symptom the causes were rooted in government institutions.

These women expanded the movement’s focus. And with good reason I admit so I repeat that I have had my own experiences with racism and Black Lives Matter.

With everything that has come to light in the last two years in the African-American community there are still people who question the legitimacy of the saying black lives matter. Some would claim that it’s racist against whites. Others that it is anti-police.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in his weekly sprouting of idiocies, claims that #BlackLivesMatter instigates violence against the police. He even blames President Obama for fomenting this violence and illegality in the Black community. Obviously, Christie is projecting a level of desperation in the face of low standings in polls of Republican voters.

But he and others have nurtured the foundation for the question I was recently asked in Washington, DC. Do black lives matter? Or do all lives matter?

I have been a civil rights attorney for more than 30 years, and I still will never be able to totally comprehend what it must be like being a Black man in the middle of a police encounter in this country.

So I say, emphatically, that black lives matter.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post and can be found here.