LAPD Investigating Boyle Heights Vandalism as Possible Hate Crimes Sparked by Gentrification Fight

Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2016

The Los Angeles Police Department is treating three acts of vandalism in the last month targeting art galleries in Boyle Heights, including graffiti at one gallery that attacked “white art,” as possible hate crimes.

The probe comes amid a debate in the predominantly Latino Eastside neighborhood over the growing art scene there and whether it’s part of a gentrification that some activists fear will push working-class families out. Galleries have been popping up in the area over the last few years as some artists get priced out of downtown’s Arts District and other areas.

“We don’t know who actually did [the vandalism], but because it actually made a reference to anti-white art or anti-white, it’s basically saying that it’s a hate crime based on that,” Det. John Parra of the LAPD’s Hollenbeck station said of a vulgar curse against “white art” that in one of the incidents was spray-painted on the Nicodim Gallery.

Boyle Heights has become a flashpoint as Los Angeles undergoes a wave of gentrification fueled by rising home prices and a renewed interest in urban neighborhoods by many. It’s already transformed once-working-class communities such as Echo Park and Highland Park. But some in Boyle Heights–for decades the heart of L.A.’s Mexican American community–have vowed to fight the change.

In the last three years, more than a dozen galleries have appeared in the area, many in an industrial zone just west of the 101 Freeway. Community activists fear the galleries will inflate property values and push poorer residents out.

In September, activists marched through Boyle Heights and posted mock eviction notices for “gentrifiers,” which included a couple of galleries.

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But the three incidents prompted the Hollenbeck Division to call a meeting with gallery owners last week to try to get an understanding of the problem and come up with a plan, including attempting to open a dialogue with the activist group Defend Boyle Heights, which has been a driving force of opposition to the galleries.

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On Thursday afternoon, Defend Boyle Heights issued a statement saying it was not responsible for vandalizing the galleries.

“We don’t know who tagged up these galleries, but we . . . certainly don’t condemn it. It is right to rebel! We are glad to see the community rise up to resist displacement, art washing and gentrification–however they see fit! Your anger is justified,” the statement read.

“Gentrification is the true, highest form of hate crime!”

Activists have demanded that the art galleries leave the neighborhood and allow the community to decide what will take their place.

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