IWILL SAY PUBLICLY what many people are whispering privately in barbershops, soul food restaurants and church parking lots in South Los Angeles. If relations don’t improve between African Americans and Latinos in Southern California, we are headed for a major racial conflict.
Sure, this is multicultural Southern California, where coalition politics is supposed to rule. However, anyone paying attention to what is happening here knows the accuracy of this assessment. Why are Latinos committing violent crimes targeted against African Americans — especially in one neighborhood in the Harbor Gateway area — and why aren’t Latino leaders speaking out against them?
According to The Times, police statistics show that from 1994 to 2005, there were nearly five times as many homicides, assaults and other violent crimes committed by Latinos against African Americans in Harbor Gateway as by African Americans against Latinos.
One example of how out of control race relations have been in Harbor Gateway is the case of the 19-year-old African American man with no known gang affiliation who was killed by a Latino member of the 204th Street gang because the gang member was upset that an African American had defeated a Latino in a boxing match.
Three Los Angeles members of a Latino gang known as the Avenues were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in November for hate crime violations, including killing African Americans in an effort to run them out of predominantly Latino neighborhoods.
This escalating violence between Latinos and African Americans defies logic in so many ways. The two racial groups have had many similar struggles in Southern California and have coalesced around issues such as affirmative action, livable wages, justice for janitors and police misconduct.
Clearly, African Americans are committing violent crimes against Latinos as well, but there is little evidence that those crimes are based on race as much as they are for control of turf. And the notion that Latinos are killing blacks in an effort to “ethnically cleanse” their neighborhoods is extremely troubling. Many African Americans are especially perplexed because they remember that when we had the numerical advantage, African Americans did not target Latinos for murder to rid them from our neighborhoods. It would have been unthinkable.
African Americans throughout South Los Angeles have been asking: When are Latino political leaders going to speak out against these hate crimes? If a political coalition between Latinos and African Americans does exist, now’s the time to show some muscle and make something happen. Yes, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa went to Harbor Gateway and encouraged residents to get along, and he offered assistance from the city to help solve some of the socioeconomic problems that plague the area. And City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo proposed tougher penalties for gang members who commit hate crimes. But other Latino political leaders have been silent.
I suspect that if these hate crimes were being committed by the KKK against Latinos or African Americans, both communities would come together and condemn the violence as racist. Why not now?
Let’s have House-Senate hearings sponsored by the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses, and special legislative hearings in Sacramento on the rise in targeted hate crimes. Let’s have community meetings convened by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, like those held about the crisis at the former King/Drew medical center. A few African American officials and some well-intentioned pastors and community activists cannot solve this problem; it also requires some heavy lifting by Latino political leadership. After all, what’s the point in having a coalition if you can’t coalesce and solve problems that are killing your constituent members?