Will Latino gang arrests deepen black-brown divide?

OPINION - The fed crackdown on the Azusa street gangs by itself won't stop hate attacks on blacks...

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I could almost set my clock to it. The “it” was a call I’d get from an anguished African-American parent every several months pleading with me and other writers and activists in Los Angeles that speak out against crime, gang and police violence to take action after they, a black neighborhood or one of their children was physically or verbally assaulted and harassed by Latino gang members.

In some cases, the attacks were not simply verbal or physical assaults but murders. We held press conferences, candle light vigils, and even marches for the victims, and challenged city and federal officials to take action. The action the parents and neighbors demanded was gang crackdowns, sweeps and prosecutions.

Federal and local law enforcement officials moved cautiously at first but in 2009, federal prosecutors brought drug, murder and racketeering charges against the violent Latino street gang, The Avenues, whose sworn mission was to drive blacks out of one South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.

The charges were announced with much media fanfare, but it did not stop the attacks and harassment. Black families fled their homes in terror in several other neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles. In each case, the alleged perpetrators of the terror attacks and vandalism were Latino gang members.

The recent bust of a Latino gang in the Los Angeles bedroom community of Azusa pretty much follows the same pattern. A violent Latino gang has a long and sordid history of harassing, assaulting, and terrorizing blacks in that community. And after loud protests from black groups, federal officials finally hit back with sweeps and arrests. But will it also be a repeat of the pattern of the past? That is a big gang sweep, arrests, lots of media attention, but racial attacks and tension continue. That’s tough to answer. The fed action is certainly welcome. But one thing that’s certain, the cause of the violence and the terror by some Latino gangs won’t magically vanish with the fresh round of arrests.

There are several reasons for this less than optimistic view that hate can be arrested away. Much of the hate violence in Los Angeles, which has been well documented by successive annual reports by the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, is no longer white on black, but Latino on black, and to a much less extent black on Latino. That violence is just enough to harden the racial battle lines between some violence prone Latino and black gangs in and around Los Angeles.

This points to yet another problem. And that’s that blacks and Latinos can be racist, maybe even more racist than whites, toward each other. When that racism translates into physical violence whether in the jails or in the streets, the gang targets are almost always the weakest, most vulnerable and innocent. The victims of the Latino gang violence in Azusa, for instance, were either students or home owners. The gang attacks are deliberately designed by the gang hate purveyors to send the message to blacks that, “This is our turf, and you’re an interloper.”

The prisons and jails have also been a virtual perpetual battleground between violent Latino and black gang members. There have been pitched battles at local jails between black and Latino inmates, and police and prison officials have had their hands full trying to maintain order in the jails. They have even resorted in many jail facilities to imposing a rigid system of segregation between black and Latino prisoners.

Any encroachment by an inmate on the other’s “jail turf” will be met with instant attack, and in some cases murder. In Los Angeles County jails, officials have set up special isolation units exclusively to keep Mexican mafia leaders from issuing orders for hits on gang rivals and blacks. In fact, in the federal indictment of the Azusa street gang, the feds alleged that drug proceeds from the neighborhood were funneled to the Mexican Mafia.

Eventually most of these gang members will hit the streets again and when they do in more cases than not the hatred that was learned in the streets, reinforced in the jails and prisons, explodes into violence against blacks in the streets especially if there’s the perception that blacks pose a threat to their lucrative racket and drug trade in poor communities.

The violence is also fueled by the changing racial demographics in many neighborhoods in Southern California and increasingly other parts of the country. Neighborhoods that were once exclusively or predominantly African-American, are they are either now majority Hispanic or they are close to being a majority of the residents. The recent Pew Hispanic Center report confirmed the drastic change in numbers. Hispanics now number more than 50 million in America, and are the fastest growing segment of the American population.

The fed crackdown on the Azusa street gangs by itself won’t stop hate attacks on blacks. But it does stop it cast an ugly glare on the terror of Latino on black hate violence. And that’s a good thing.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson