We can't imagine cops using the title “Operation Fried Rice” to go after an Asian-American gang, or “Operation Fried Chicken” to target an African-American one.
But the cowboys at the San Diego County Sheriff's Department continue use the title “Operation Guacamole” to describe their ongoing crackdown on a Fallbrook, California gang in their jurisdiction.
The last time we asked the department about the language, we were told …
… it refers to the community's role as the American “capital” of avocado production. It's a rationale the department repeated yesterday in a statement announcing the results of what it called “Operation Avocado VIII:”
Fallbrook is known as the avocado capital of the world that's why the sweep was dubbed Operation Guacamole.
Of course, they don't call it the more culturally neutral “Operation Avocado,” do they?
Roberto D. Hernández, a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University, wasn't surprised by deputies' use of the questionable title.
He said the department has also defended “Operation Guacamole” as a tradition, which “is particularly troubling because it also parallels apologists' defense of explicitly racist practices such as the use of black face or of the confederate flag amongst white supremacist groups.”
He told us:
The continued use of the name despite it being brought to their attention that it may be an inappropriate and ill-conceived name for targeting a Latino gang speaks volumes for the general disregard of Latina/o communities in the North County area, which has notoriously had a history of anti-Mexican discrimination and even outright violence.
Indeed, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has had a rocky relationship with the Latino community dating back to at least 1988.
That year a 15-year-old girl who was the daughter of a San Diego city police officer claimed she had been raped by eight Latino men. Sheriff's deputies, which patrolled the area of the crime, detained 80 Latinos for questioning.
Critics decried it as a roundup based solely on ethnicity. Authorities later determined that the girl's story was false.
In 2012 San Diego deputies searching for a suspect in Vista, California confronted and allegedly beat and pepper-sprayed a young Latino man with Down syndrome, sparking protests.
And the nearby community of Escondido was a hotbed of demonstrations in recent years as a result of police checkpoints – not involving the Sheriff's Department – that critics say were aimed squarely at Latinos and those here illegally.
San Diego County's northern communities are whiter and more rural than the big city to the south, but they draw immigrants to work the fields there, including the very avocado crops that helped to put Fallbrook on the map.
Deputies say that on Thursday from 6 to 11 a.m. members of the Varrio Fallbrook Locos gang were targeted with parole and probation sweeps.
The cops collared a whopping three suspects, one for allegedly having “gang paraphernalia,” an apparent probation violation, another for alleged weapons and probation violations and a third for allegedly possessing drug paraphernalia.
We asked San Diego State University's William A. Nericcio, director of the school's Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences program and author of Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the “Mexican” in America, what he thought of the title “Operation Guacamole:”
“It is offensive,” he said, “but language is like this – puns and punning are uncontrollable. … They can't help themselves. The name is more benign than the situational profiling.”
Something about Mexicans and criminality go together like hot dogs and mustard in the minds of the masses. Law enforcement, in this regard, piles on. They just can't help themselves. Guacamole being a staple of SoCal, the Sheriffs just could contain their punning inventiveness. The gavacho utterances of 'holy guacamole' meet an avocado grove raid and the rest is history.