Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Biggest Sundown Town In America

Sara Robinson

Ethnic cleansing has arrived (once again) in Los Angeles -- a city that hasn't gone 40 years in its entire history without somebody trying to wipe somebody else off the map. The Spanish tried to eliminate the natives; the Americans did their best to banish the Spanish; the Mexicans fought back during the Pachuco Wars; the Japanese, of course, were famously sent off to the camps during World War II; and the ghettoization and police harassment of African-Americans erupted into rioting in 1965, and again in 1992.

Palm trees and beaches, sure; but LA has never been a peaceful place. And it has always found ways, in particular, to make its black population distinctly unwelcome.

My father-in-law, an LA native himself, was a professor of sociological statistics at UCLA for two decades. Among his finer achievements (by his own reckoning) was an early 1950s study proving that the LA County courts were deliberately, systematically, eliminating African-American citizens from being summoned to jury duty, thus ensuring that no black defendant in LA could ever stand before a jury of his or her peers. His study became the basis of a lawsuit (at which he testified, at some personal risk), and which brought about signficant changes in jury selection procedures. But that's the kind of crap that used to go on -- and, as anybody who watched the Rodney King trial knows -- still goes on to this day, whenever anybody in power thinks they can get away with it.

In fact, it seems to be getting worse. The growing number of Mexicans in Southern California, and the growing influence of the Mexican mafia in formerly black neighborhoods, have created the conditions for a well-organized and expanding campaign of outright eliminationism against LA's blacks. According to an article posted today by Brentin Mock over at Alternet, the ethic cleansing has in fact already begun.
"The way I hear these knuckleheads tell it, they don't want their neighborhoods infested with blacks, as if it's an infestation," says respected Los Angeles gang expert Tony Rafael, who interviewed several Latino street gang leaders for an upcoming book on the Mexican Mafia, the dominant Latino gang in Southern California. "It's pure racial animosity that manifests itself in a policy of a major criminal organization."

"There's absolutely no motive absent the color of their skin," adds former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Michael Camacho. Before he became a judge, in 2003, Camacho successfully prosecuted a Latino gang member for the random shootings of three black men in Pomona, Calif.

"They generally don't like African Americans," Pomona gang unit officer Marcus Perez testified in that case. "If an African American enters their neighborhood, they're likely to be injured or killed."

A comprehensive study of hate crimes in Los Angeles County released by the University of Hawaii in 2000 concluded that while the vast majority of hate crimes nationwide are not committed by members of organized groups, Los Angeles County is a different story. Researchers found that in areas with high concentrations, or "clusters," of hate crimes, the perpetrators were typically members of Latino street gangs who were purposely targeting blacks.

Furthermore, the study found, "There is strong evidence of race-bias hate crimes among gangs in which the major motive is not the defense of territorial boundaries against other gangs, but hatred toward a group defined by racial identification, regardless of any gang-related territorial threat."

Six years later, the racist terror campaign continues.
So this is what it looks like when centuries of anti-black eliminationism comes crashing up against an out-of-control prison system (which experts say is where the Mexican gangs' hatred of blacks is consolidated and spread) and the total collapse of our immigration policies. This is, Mock says, a problem that's been brewing for a decade now. But in the past year, it's ceased being "isolated incidents," and has begun to emerge into a widespread cultural problem.
Anti-black violence conducted by Latino gangs in Los Angeles has been ongoing for more than a decade. A 1995 Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) report about Latino gang activity in the Normandale Park neighborhood declared, "This gang has been involved in an ongoing program to eradicate Black citizens from the gang neighborhood." A 1996 LAPD report on gangs in east Los Angeles stated, "Local gangs will attack any Black person that comes into the city."

But while the Latino gangs' racial terror campaign is not new, gang experts and law enforcement authorities say the intensity and frequency of anti-black terrorism is now escalating, as the amount of turf in Los Angeles claimed by Latino gangs continues to increase rapidly. And, as more and more blacks leave inner-city L.A. for safer neighborhoods, those who remain are more vulnerable.

"I don't see much history left for blacks in Los Angeles," says LAPD probation officer James Lewis, who is himself black and deals specifically with Latino gang members in northeast Los Angeles, including the Avenues. "It plays out not just with the gang members, but also the way things are going [for blacks] throughout Los Angeles."

Since 1990, the African-American population of Los Angeles has dropped by half as blacks relocated to suburbs, and Latinos have moved into historically black neighborhoods. Traversing South Central L.A. today, it's obvious that the urban landscape has changed radically since the Bloods-versus-Crips era depicted in movies like Colors, Boyz N The Hood, and Menace II Society. Not only are there vastly fewer black people walking the streets, there are vastly fewer obvious black gang members. Beige skin and baggy khakis have displaced the red and blue bandannas of the Bloods and the Crips.

The LAPD estimates there are now 22,000 Latino gang members in the city of Los Angeles alone. That's not only more than all the Crips and the Bloods; it's more than all black, Asian, and white gang members combined. Almost all of those Latino gang members in L.A. -- let alone those in other California cities -- are loyal to the Mexican Mafia. Most have been thoroughly indoctrinated with the Mexican Mafia's violent racism during stints in prison, where most gangs are racially based.

"When I first started working the gangs, they would be mixed. You could be black and Latino and be in the same gang," says Lewis, the LAPD probation officer. "But when they went to prison, they had to be Latino instead of from the gang, so their enemies became African Americans."
A few thoughts about this...

First: While Dave's been reminding us what white eliminationists are capable of, it may also be true that the groups with the strongest incentive to engage in eliminationist violence aren't the ones who are securely on top of the social order, but the ones who are second to the bottom, hovering just one rung above their victims. But even so: they only get away with it as long as those on the upper rungs allow it to continue unchallenged. (Fascism is, after all, a marriage of convenience between working-class thugs and the upper classes who use them to control the masses.) If the Powers That Be start exacting a price for this behavior, it stops.

Second: It's galling that the news of this brown-on-black ethnic cleansing can only come as a sweet confirmation to the extremist right, which has been predicting (and raptly anticipating) exactly this kind of race war forever. For them, the Mexican Mafia's apparently successful takeover of LA's black communities will be counted as a first military victory in the alleged "Recolonia." Soon, we'll no doubt be hearing gleeful warnings that the Asian and white communities will be next in their sights -- and that the future they've been dreaming of is finally coming to pass. If we're going to have a snappy comeback ready, we should probably start thinking about it now.

Third: This story vividly illustrates the critical role hate-crimes laws play in controlling situations like this. Mock writes that federal prosecutors, using national hate-crimes law, successfully prosecuted one eliminationist gang that was terrorizing the (really lovely) Highland Park neighborhood. These laws gave the government essential tools needed to put real sanctions on the Mexican Mafia leadership, doling out long sentences in prisons far yonder where their ability to control affairs on the street is now severely restricted.

Unfortunately, since these trials ended, the violence in Highland Park has begun to climb again; and so far, there are no plans to prosecute anyone else. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa went to Washington at the end of November to ask Alberto Gonzales for an infusion of federal support -- funds and prosecutors -- to keep the pressure on. But it appears (at least from this article) as though the city of LA is still looking at this issue as a matter of stopping business-as-usual gang violence, rather than recognizing that they're now facing a large, coordinated campaign of ethnic cleansing. They're in an emerging situation that has more in common with Bosnia or Darfur than policing and policy as usual, and it's going to require a whole different kind of response. Let's hope they figure that out before the sun sets on the last African-American in LA.

No comments: