The arrest of Jonathan Fajardo brought a momentary breath of relief to Charlene Lovett. Fajardo is one of two purported Latino gang members charged with the murder of Lovett's daughter, 14- year-old black teen Cheryl Green last December and the wounding of three others in the mixed ethnic Harbor Gateway community in Los Angeles. Prosecutors have slapped an added hate crime enhancement on the two men. Pedro Baez, a noted Los Angeles Latino leader, and editor of the nationally distributed Voice of the People, quickly denounced the shooting, and passionately insisted that the hate crime attack was way out of the ethnic pale, and in no way reflected hostile feelings of Latinos toward blacks.
Baez is right and wrong. His denunciation was welcome. So was that of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A.'s popular Latino mayor, who vowed that the city would crack down on hate crimes. But Baez and Villaraigosa were the lone Latino voices in publicly denouncing the Green shooting. At a press conference and walk against hate at the spot where the shooting occurred, Baez wondered out loud why he was the only Latino that took part in the protest action. He challenged other Latino activists and leaders to aggressively oppose hate crime violence between Latinos and blacks. There have been few takers.
Villaraigosa for his part badly dodged the issue by failing to name names. These aren't just garden variety white on black hate crimes. Blacks and Latinos are committing many of these crimes, and they are victimizing each other. This represents two tormenting new trends. One is that blacks and Latinos now commit the majority of hate crimes in L.A. The other is that hate crimes are increasingly being committed in urban areas. Since the summer, 2006, there have been nearly a dozen murder attempts in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles on blacks by alleged Latino gang members. There were more attacks in other parts of the city by blacks on Latinos. The attacks have happened in mixed ethnic neighborhoods such as Harbor Gateway. Blacks and Latinos nationally commit about one in five hate crimes, and many of their victims, as in L.A., are other blacks or Latinos.
In the past, the kind of violence that claimed the life of Green was rare. Most residents lived and got along in relative peace, and on the surface, anyway, with minimal friction. But as the increase in black and Latino hate crimes sadly shows that's changing.
In part that's due to America's changing ethnic demographics, and the painful adjustment that both groups are making to them. Latinos have now toppled blacks from their long held perch as the nation's biggest minority. The impact of the surging Latino numbers has been acutely felt in many urban neighborhoods in the nation that were once exclusively black, and now either majority Latino, or they represent a significant number of the residents. In L.A., blacks and Latinos increasingly rub shoulders with each other in neighborhoods, in the schools, parks, and stores, and on jobs. This has stirred tense competition for low-end jobs, scarce school resources, and the use of public services.
The fight for immigration reform has also fueled resentment among some blacks that their needs and problems are being shoved further and further to the backburner on the nation's public policy plate. Latino leaders, in turn, vociferously protest the lingering tendency of many writers and race relation experts to still frame racial conflict in black and white. They insist that their numbers, and growing political clout, make them major players in the nation's ethnic battles, and they aren't going to take a back seat to blacks.
The spike in black and Latino hate crime violence also is due in part to the undeclared war between blacks and Latinos that has raged in some of California's jails and prisons. That battle has spawned an even bigger fight in poor neighborhoods between gangs over crime and drug turfs. The gang and prison violence has resulted in dozens of injuries and a few deaths. And there are constant rumors that black and Latino prison gangs have ordered retaliation hits on other blacks and Latinos on the streets as part of their street turf battles. The problem is, as always, that innocents such as Cheryl Green are the ones that are most likely to be caught in their deadly crossfire.
No one could have predicted a few years ago the surge in black on Latino and Latino on black hate crimes. But it's happened. And the greater danger is that L.A.'s terrible outburst of black and brown hate violence could be replicated in other big cities. That will take a loud outcry from Latino and black leaders against hate violence and an ongoing effort by them to ease tensions in L.A. and other cities. L.A. must not be the new, but grim, and ugly face of hate violence in America.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006). earlofarihutchinson.blogspot.com firstname.lastname@example.org