I’m sure my last name throws everyone off, but I actually like that. My Anglo-sounding name does inadvertently allow me to get someone’s true perspective on hot-button issues involving minorities without them knowing I am Latino. Of course this only works in e-mails or the telephone and not in person. Once you see me and my brown skin, it’s pretty clear that I am Latino. My mother is a “Rodriguez” and my biological father is a “Garcia”. My biological father left before I was born. My mother met my stepfather when I was ten. He adopted me and gave me his name “Schaps”.
I serve with an Illinois Police Department in the Chicago’s northern suburbs. My city has a population of approximately 58,000 with about 9,000 documented Spanish-speaking people. My guestimate is that there are close to 12,000 Spanish speakers in total. My department has approximately 85 sworn officers. I am one of 5 male Latinos.
I was hired in 1993. I am the first and only Latino detective to be assigned to the investigation bureau. We have never had a Latino in a supervisory position here. I have been assigned to the investigative bureau for 15 out of my almost 20 years on the job. I handle all the major cases involving primarily Spanish speakers, which is no easy task.
I’m also the lead on most major cases such as homicides, sexual assaults, aggravated battery, etc. We only have 10 detectives here. We are small, but handle a lot of cases. I am also a senior investigator for the Major Case Assistance Team, (MCAT), a homicide task force composed of LEOs from approximately 20 different municipalities in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs – primarily in Cook County, Illinois.
I’m really not sure what percentage of American Latinos are liberal vs. conservative. Liberalism is more characteristic of Mexican immigrants. Incidentally, I am a third generation Mexican American. My whole family is conservative in their political beliefs. My relatives fought in WWII, Vietnam, and my cousin fought in Iraq. We bleed red, white, and blue.
We believe everyone has to go through the process of becoming a citizen in this country to experience and benefit from the freedoms afforded to us by the men and women who fought and died for them. We believe that national security is the greatest responsibility of our federal government. We can’t enjoy the freedoms of this great nation while simultaneously allowing tyrannical leaders to test weapons of mass destruction that can jeopardize our children’s future.
In spite of our beliefs however, I and most members of my family are often categorized by the majority as Mexican nationals based on the color of our skin. It’s only when I speak English without an accent am I given the proverbial “green light” that I must be American.
I have learned to adapt to this behavior and it no longer affects me unless there is blatant derogatory behavior directed at me – then the gloves come off. My whole family is cool with it, though, It is what it is, but we all know who we are – Americans. Discriminatory behavior has never has deterred our Patriotism.
We don’t believe in free handouts, we don’t believe in illegal immigrants afforded the same benefits concerning education, medical benefits, or other pertinent government assistance that we as tax payers facilitate. We believe our taxes should be used to benefit Americans in every capacity from national security to Medicaid. We feel cheated out of our money when government distributes any portion of our fiscal budget to illegal immigrants.
As far as policing relative to illegal immigration, I believe the system we have in place is effective for several reasons. Department resources should not be allocated to enforcing immigration laws exclusively. We have enough to do without having to do the federal government’s job as well. If they want us to perform the duties of INS –pay us extra. When we encounter an illegal immigrant, it is in an official capacity – i.e. a violation of the Illinois State Criminal Code or a violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code.
If you break the law, you will be under arrest. If you commit a felony offense, we call INS and report it. What they do with you is on them. I tell you one thing though, if a White, Black, or Asian, police officer asked me, Lee Schaps, to verify my citizenship, I wouldn’t react well.
If you are here illegally you by God better mind your P’s & Q’s otherwise you can find yourself back on a plane. I find Sheriff Joe Apaio of Maricopa County Arizona an interesting man. I can totally appreciate his perspective, but he is a hard read. I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt and respect their opinions. It’s when the opinions border racism that I begin to second guess the person.
I wonder, how Sheriff Joe would treat me if I were walking down the street in Arizona in my jeans, boots, cowboy hat, and my brown skin? I hope he would be cool with me but I just don’t know. I guess I would have to have a couple beers with him and use some of my interrogation skills on him to see what he is all about. Our borders need to be vigorously defended. We open ourselves up to potential catastrophic situations if they are not. Our Border Patrol should be akin to our military and thus provided with the same budget to be effective.
My Latino background, appearance, culture, and language all play a significant role in my job. I am trusted by the Latino culture which I serve. Latinos don’t trust cops in their country let alone here in ours. Because I convey myself as Mexican American, they feel more comfortable with me. As a result, I am better able to communicate with them than a non-Latino officer who can’t speak the language. They feel that they are being given equal service like non Latinos, so it’s a significant benefit to them.
It’s equally beneficial to me because I know the culture and customs. More importantly, I know when those customs or cultural traits have been disrespected. I have the ability to empathize with community members, thus giving me the ability to understand and take appropriate measures. It’s a big deal. The people recognize me and appreciate me. They often befriend me to the point where I am invited over for dinner.
American Latinos go native when they are down on their luck and struggling financially. Screaming racism is a convenient copout for all ethnicities when they are experiencing socioeconomic troubles. They become frustrated when they can’t find jobs, when they can’t taste their slice of the American pie.
When our economy is in a tailspin, our government spending is out of control, joblessness is through the roof, and the housing and banking industry collapses, people get frustrated. We all do, but that’s not racism. Our actual frustration should be with our elected government. I find it interesting that our president spent millions on his campaign to win the Hispanic vote and black vote, but has done little to find them jobs like he promised. And they continue to vote for him. Why?
Detective Lee Schaps serves with a police department in the Northern Chicago suburbs. He is also a senior investigator for MCAT, the Major Case Assistance Team, a homicide task force composed of 20 area municipalities located primarily in Illinois’ Cook County.