Ex-Inmates Say Gangs Force Them to Fight

Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 10, 2006

The traffic ticket Anthony Valdez went to jail to work off was almost the most expensive of his life.

Valdez entered downtown L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail on Monday to do two days for the delinquent ticket, rather than pay the fine. He arrived just as riots between Latino and black inmates were erupting across the jail system.

Since Saturday, riots have exploded at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic and at Men’s Central Jail, leaving one man dead, 28 hospitalized and almost 90 injured—and put the whole system on lockdown and emergency racial segregation.

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Jerez said he hadn’t had many dealings with African Americans in the month he spent in jail for battery. Associating with blacks, he said, was forbidden by the Southsiders—Southern California Latino gang members who control the activities of Latino inmates.

“We’re not supposed to talk to them. Otherwise, we’ll get in trouble, made to do push-ups” by Southsider leaders, said Jerez, who wore a football jersey emblazoned with former Ram quarterback Kurt Warner’s No. 13—also the number of Southern California street gangs affiliated with the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

Over and over, inmates on early release repeated: The races are prevented from interacting by their own gangs.

“You can’t associate” with blacks, said a 19-year-old who identified himself only as Manny from the Valley. “If we see them, it’s fights right away.”

Manny said he harbored no hatred for blacks but that in jail, “we have to” fight them “or else we get beat down by our own people.”

The fighting seemed to threaten even areas without racial tensions.

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Phoenix said that black and Southsider leaders in his dorm, however, decided they would not follow suit with more violence. The races divided to avoid any physical contact that might ignite fighting, and things remained calm.

But, he said, jail deputies arrived and, misunderstanding the situation, began pushing the two races together, forcing them to get into their bunks, where the races were mixed.

“They thought we were trying to do something, but we had it all under control,” he said. “We were trying to keep the peace. They’re trying to push something to happen.”

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“If you give your food to a black guy, or a black guy gives his food to a Hispanic, you get beat up by your own people,” he said.

“If you’re in there, you have to stand up for your race. You may not want to, but there are other guys in there who will beat you down if you don’t.”

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The Sheriff’s Department struggled for a sixth day Thursday to halt violence in the County Jail system, as 200 Latino and black inmates clashed just after officials had guided the media through the Pitchess Detention Center on a tour.

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Meanwhile, a group of predominantly black activists, including representatives from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People , held news conferences in South Los Angeles to condemn the violence.

Activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable called upon political leaders, particularly Latino elected officials, to speak out against the jail attacks.

“We have got to stop the code of violence,” he said. “The silence by every major Latino leader in the city is troubling.”

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Investigators said they traced Saturday’s riot to Mexican Mafia prison gang leaders, who they said “greenlighted” Latino jail inmates to attack blacks.

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“Black inmates are begging us for help. They want to stay segregated and be protected,” said Najee Ali, of Project Islamic Hope, who was among those let inside. “They aren’t trying to start any trouble.”

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