*Of the all splendor, excitement, opportunity and wonder ascribed to Los Angeles, you’d never think that hate crimes would be associated with the City of Angels.
Yet hate has permeated the fabric of the city and resides within its folds.
While some might view this distinction as an anomaly or an aberration of sorts, sadly it’s not.
It’s becoming so LA theses days, well at least if you live in certain communities – that is communities of color. It wouldn’t even be so much a stretch to say hatred is indigenous to some communities. The recent hate crime in Compton, California was shocking and surreal. It was an all out, brazen and tactical move ominously reminiscent of the historic reign of terror enacted against African Americans by the Klu Klux Klan. But this incident didn’t happen decades ago, it happened just last week.
The news account of what happened was beyond jarring. An African American family moves into the Compton community, which is no longer predominately black. Shortly thereafter they are subjected to racial epithets, assaulted and beaten with a metal pipe, taunted with a gun, and later have their home converged upon by an angry mob of 20 Latino gang members yelling threats and telling them that African Americans were not allowed to live in the neighborhood. The only things missing from this picture are hoods and cross burnings. Otherwise, it was text book Klan 101 intimidation in Compton, California..
The story quickly sky rocketed through the mainstream press and social media. It seemed like an unbelievable throw back image from a forgotten era or an era most would prefer to forget. And it seemed utterly unfathomable that something like this could happen despite the shifting demographics in the area which is now 65% Latino and 33% African American. Assuming civility would organically prevail and people who share common struggles would simply coalesce and practice tolerance proved to be naive thinking, at least in this case.
Back in 2006 the killing of 14-year-old Cheryl Green in the Harbor Gateway community, a small neighborhood in the Southern part of Los Angeles, signaled that the protracted racial tensions between African American and Latino residents had reached a deadly crescendo.
It was an untenable existence for African American residents in Harbor Gateway who lived on the Southside of what was a modern day Mason Dixon line in that community. Going north of their boundary where the only local market in the neighbor was situated meant certain harassment, threats and sometimes physical assault. An ill-fated venture across that line resulted in young Green losing her life when a gunman opened fire and an errant bullet struck the young student in an attempt to kill another unwanted male intruder.
Two years later in 2008 the death of 17-year old Jamiel Shaw shook the African American community once again. Shaw, who was black, was walking home one evening down 5th Avenue in the Arlington Heights area of Los Angeles. Suddenly two Latino men jumped out of a car, approached him and asked what gang he belonged to. When Shaw who had no gang affiliations didn’t respond quickly enough, they shot him. This student athlete whom Stanford University had shown interest in, was literally a few doors from his home when he slain.
In all three incidents, arrests were made. The 25-year-old killer of Green was convicted of a hate crime and is now serving a 238-year sentence. The 23-year-old killer of Shaw was sentenced to death. In the case of the Compton family, a 19-year-old, 20-year-old and juvenile suspect were arrested and may face hate crime charges.
Law enforcement and elected officials aren’t racing to the microphone to state that any of these crimes have been or are racially motivated. At the time Shaw was murdered, some officials rebuffed that theory and instead theorized that the increase in gang related violence had more to do with a step-up in gang rivalry than racial tensions.
These incidents seem to point to the contrary. After the murder of Shaw, a campaign to enact a “Jamiel’s Law,” was launched to give law enforce the power to at roundup gang members who are in the U.S. illegally. The measure failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot.
At recent press conference following the terrorization of the Compton family, local civil rights leaders and advocates called for the District Attorney to file hate crime charges against the arrested gang members to “send a strong message that hate violence in L.A. County will not be tolerated,” as stated their released statement. The civil rights leaders and advocates also said if the violence continues they will hold a march in Compton calling for an end to the intimidation and violence.
Los Angeles has a hate crime problem. It is pervasive, targeted and very much alive. Against the backdrop of the hustle and bustle of living in the City of the Angels, there is an underbelly of hate targeting African Americans that must be dealt with in swift, constructive, decisive, collegial and legislative ways with community stakeholders – black and brown – before it metastasizes into something unthinkable.
With civil rights leaders and community advocates leading the charge, this Margaret Mead quote seems fitting: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information. For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected].