RACE RELATIONS BLOG: Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mexicans vow to force Blacks out of Los Angeles (video here)

The headlines are among the most stark documenting gang violence. A Latino gang member, without saying a word, guns down a 14-year-old black girl standing on a sidewalk. A black gang member shoots a Latino toddler point-blank in the chest.

For the most part, though, the role racial animosity has played in gang crime has gone unexamined, largely undocumented in crime statistics and often tamped down by politicians and law enforcement officials anxious about inflaming tensions.

That changed this month when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William J. Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca all spoke with unusual candor of their concern that an increasing number of gang crimes appear to be born out of racial hatred. In a few instances, the Los Angeles Police Department has identified Latino gangs they say are indiscriminately targeting African American residents in what appear to be campaigns to drive blacks from some neighborhoods.

The acknowledgment by top officials, some activists say, has been a long time coming.

"What is happening is similar to small earthquakes taking place along a major fault line," said Khalid Shah, executive director of Stop the Violence Increase the Peace Foundation, who said he has heard from numerous communities across the region reporting rises in racially motivated gang attacks. "Ultimately the danger is that there will be an explosion, particularly, I think, if we put our heads in the sand and try to act like this issue isn't real."

But getting a handle on how much gang violence is rooted in racism is difficult.