Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition has a ways to go in Los Angeles, where Mexicans and blacks are killing each other at record rates. The action is particularly hot in South Central Los Angeles and in nearby Compton, two areas that have undergone a dramatic shift during the last two decades from virtually all black to half or more Hispanic.
Since the 1990s, the changes described by Anderson have intensified. The demographic statistics are startling. The two high schools nearest the Los Angeles Coliseum—presumably the schools Anderson’s children would have attended—are Jefferson, two miles to the east, and Manual Arts, a half mile to the southwest. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the schools were nearly 100 percent black—and Jefferson had been since the 1940s. Today Jefferson is 7 percent black and 92 percent Hispanic, and Manual Arts 20 percent black and 79.5 percent Hispanic.
The story is similar for the rest of South Central. Fremont High School, virtually 100 percent black during the 1960s and ‘70s, is now 12 percent black and 88 percent Hispanic. Crenshaw and Locke, two high schools built after the Watts riots and nearly all black during their first 20 years, are now 32 percent and 63 percent Hispanic. Dorsey and Washington high schools, which went from white to black during the ‘50s and early ‘60s, are each now 45 percent Hispanic. Unchecked illegal immigration will ensure Hispanic majorities at the two schools within a few years.
The most stunning change of all, though, has occurred at Jordan High School. Lying six miles to the southeast of the Coliseum, Jordan is in the heart of Watts, a portion of Los Angeles that had the unique distinction of becoming predominately black prior to World War II. During the war, the federal government built Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens, and Imperial Courts, three housing projects for southern blacks who had come to Los Angeles to replace white workers then serving overseas. When other high schools in South Central were still white in the 1940s, Jordan was solidly black. Jordan High School and black were synonymous. Watts and black were synonymous.
Crossing into Watts, as I did in 1962 to play a football game against the Jordan High Bulldogs, was like being transported to another country. Except for cops and firemen, whites were nowhere to be seen—and that was at a time when the population of Los Angeles County was 80 percent white. When our team bus stopped at lights, men and boys, loitering at the street corners, gesticulated at us and shouted epithets. We didn’t exactly feel welcomed. After we won 20-7, a security force had to escort us to our bus behind chain-link fences and gates to protect us from a mob that had gathered in the street next to the school’s parking lot.
Jordan remained virtually all black throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I would have bet that Watts and Jordan High would have remained so for my lifetime and more. Today, the school is 20 percent black and 79 percent Hispanic, and Spanish is the language most commonly heard on campus.
Such dramatic shifts have not come without violence. Fighting is common and racial brawls not unusual. Jefferson High School was the scene of three such brawls during the spring semester alone. Like Jordan, Jefferson High was predominately—almost exclusively—black from the early 1940s until the 1980s. Today, there are only 300 blacks and more than 3,500 Hispanics at the school. Of the Hispanics, 1,741 are listed as “English learners.” Better than half of the school’s students were born in Mexico, and nearly all Latino students, whether native or foreign born, converse with each other in Spanish. Blacks have complained about it, saying the “Mexicans” are “disrespecting” them by speaking in Spanish. Latinos have responded by saying they are not going to stop speaking Spanish just because blacks don’t like it.
A brawl involving more than a hundred students erupted on April 14. During lunch, two black girls began fighting over a cell phone. A crowd surrounded them immediately, jeering and heckling. A group of black football players pushed through the crowd to see the action. A milk cartoon arced through the air and hit one of them. “Who threw the carton?” the victim yelled at some Latinos. “Go back to Africa,” came the response.
The conflict between Latino gangs and black gangs is especially pronounced at the housing projects in Watts. At Jordan Downs alone, there have been 14 murders since 2000 and an average of a violent crime every day and a half, the highest rate of crime of any public housing project in Los Angeles. In an effort to stop the flow of blood, the LAPD has plans to install surveillance cameras throughout the 700-unit complex. The project’s 2,400 residents are not thrilled with the idea. “I wouldn’t want the LAPD to watch me day to day,” offered resident David Valencia. “Mexicans and blacks don’t usually agree on anything. But none of us want to be watched.” “This isn’t about Big Brother,” said Police Commission Vice President Alan Skobin. Added the LAPD’s George Gascon, “Cameras are as much a part of policing now as handcuffs.”
When black and brown criminals are incarcerated, they take their racial conflict with them into California’s prisons. Racial riots occur with disturbing frequency. Blacks and Latinos have been routinely segregated, although a recent court decision may force integration. The results are bound to cause more violent eruptions if reception centers at the prisons are any example. The centers serve as temporary homes for processing inmates from county jails before they are assigned to a regular housing unit in the prison. Regardless of race, inmates live together at the centers. Fights are common. In late September, eight inmates were seriously injured in a racial brawl at the reception center at the California Institution for Men at Chino. According to a prison spokesman, more than 200 blacks and Latinos not only fought but tore up the center “pretty good, with broken windows and doors.”
More ominous, perhaps, is the daily conflict among the general black and brown populations in South Central. Occasionally, the conflict turns deadly. On a Sunday night in late September, 23-year-old William Armistead and 17-year-old Courtney Whaley walked into Robidio Espana’s Super Discount Store on San Pedro Street, a short distance from Fremont High. While in the store, Armistead and Whaley grew irritated at employees speaking to each other in Spanish and assumed themselves to be the objects of derogatory remarks. In response, the two young blacks began harassing a female clerk, gesturing and making offensive sexual remarks. Espana intervened, precipitating a heated verbal exchange with Armistead and Whaley. They left but on their way out the door threatened to return and get Espana.