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|The face of MS-13|
WASHINGTON – Latino gang members were hunting for black people in the Harbor Gateway community of Los Angeles.
Age was not a factor. Neither was gender.
Cheryl Green, 14, was on her scooter, talking to friends when a hail of bullets killed the 8th-grader and injured several other black youngsters.
That was December 2006. But the race-motivated carnage has only increased since then, say law-enforcement authorities from coast to coast – with Hispanic gangs targeting blacks and black gangs, reciprocating as their communities are increasingly surrounded by the exploding population of Hispanics, much of it fueled by illegal immigration.
In Harbor Gateway, the dividing line is 206th Street. Blacks understand it is not safe to cross over to the Hispanic side and Hispanics know it is not safe to cross over to the black side.
Federal prosecutors last year charged members of a Latino gang with conducting a violent campaign to drive blacks out of the Florence-Firestone neighborhood in L.A. County, which resulted in some 20 homicides over several years.
L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca wrote in a newspaper editorial that “some of L.A.’s so-called gangs are really no more than loose-knit bands of blacks or Latinos roaming the streets looking for people of the other color to shoot.”
|18th Street gang tattoo|
Perhaps the highest profile example of what some believe to be a racial hate crime was the shooting death of Jamiel Shaw II, a promising high school football player killed near his Los Angeles home in March. Pedro Espinoza, 19, a Latino gang member and illegal immigrant, stands accused of the homicide. He sports a large “18” tattoo on his back, signifying him as a member of the 18th Street gang. He also has a smaller 18 tattooed near his left eye and the letters BK tattooed behind his left ear. Gang experts say BK stands for “Blood Killer.”
Though Espinoza has pleaded not guilty to the charge, a witness quotes him as saying days after the shooting: “BK all day. I’m going to wipe all the Bloods out.”
“We have domestic terrorists right here,” said California Attorney General Jerry Brown at a recent gang summit in L.A. County. “Gangs are like a disease, like a cancer in a community. We have to do more.”
Brown compared what is happening in the streets of his state to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also called on the entertainment industry to stop glorifying the violent gang lifestyle in music and movies.
“I think Denzel Washington and [Robert] De Niro and anyone who has made money glamorizing gang members should contribute [to programs to help kids out of gangs],” said Constance Rice, co-director and co-founder of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles, at the summit.
In May, racial tensions between blacks and Hispanics erupted at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif. At least eight students were suspended and one arrested after a race riot broke out.
In 2003, 5,570 young people, age 10-24, were murdered – an average of 15 each day. Most were black. While statistics show most of the violence in minority communities is black on black or Hispanic on Hispanic, the trend is shifting, according to many law enforcement officials who say they see an upsurge in racial violence.
Among 10- to 24-year olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for blacks and the second leading cause of death for Hispanics. The Justice Department reported that in 2005, the homicide rate for black males, 18-25, was just over 102 per 100,000, and only 12.5 deaths per 100,000 for their white counterparts.
In Coatesville, Penn., near Philadelphia, the police department is expressing concern about widespread reports of black city residents victimizing Hispanics – mostly illegal immigrants. Police Chief William Matthews says the reports include robberies, assaults and rapes.
He warns if the attacks are not contained, they could trigger the formation of violent Hispanic gangs.
The city has long been home to a large black community. It is now attracting a growing illegal immigrant population that is largely Hispanic.
“It’s not long before you have black-on-brown crime,” said Matthews. “And we’re seeing the beginning of that.”
Matthews said African Americans are targeting Hispanics who are vulnerable because they do not speak English and often do not report crimes to the police out of fear their immigration status will be questioned, he said.
Blacks are responsible for robbing, assaulting and raping Hispanics, as well as invading their homes, Matthews said.
“A segment of our community – the African American community – is preying on them,” he said.
Matthews said some immigrants do not trust the police in their home countries and the mindset travels with them here.
“They view police as a criminal gang and rightfully so. And they’re afraid if they call the police, someone in their family will be deported,” Matthews said.
The fear causes crime victims to keep quiet. Therefore, Matthews said, police only know about a fraction of the crimes against Hispanics.
If the issue is not dealt with soon, Matthews said, the city could face the worst crime it has ever seen when Hispanic victims or their relatives resort to forming notoriously violent gangs, like MS-13, to defend their community.
“If we don’t get our arms around this problem, organized gangs will fill the vacancies,” Matthews said. “There is no violence that’s happened in this city that can compare to the violence that could take its place.”
Aida Garcia, director of social services for nonprofit La Comunidad Hispana, said she was not surprised to hear about the activity in Coatesville.
“I think this is happening all over right now – all over the county,” Garcia said. “This has been happening for a while, except people haven’t been talking because they were afraid. This is nothing new.”
Meanwhile, last week in North Carolina, the head of the Latin Kings gang held a news conference to call on other gang members to stop the violence.
“I’m asking for all Bloods, Crips, MS-13, everybody out there that represents something, to put your weapons down and let’s come to a table so we can talk peace,” said Jorge Cornell.
He wants gang leaders to get together for a discussion on how to end violence
“What I’m asking these leaders to do is if you’ve got one that’s going to start trouble with the other, don’t let those two, you know, let it get physical,” Cornell urged. “And if it does, don’t let it cause a war. Let’s bring it to the attention of those leaders and let those leaders deal with their own.”