By Monday, 93 people had been killed in Los Angeles this year, compared with 69 during the same period last year—a nearly 35% increase. As the weeks pass, the bloodshed in 2008 grows worse than the previous year. Two weeks ago, for example, the increase in the homicide rate over last year stood at 27%. The rise is also outpacing those in New York City and Chicago—cities that have seen significant, but less dramatic, increases this year, according to Det. Jeff Godown, who oversees the LAPD’s extensive effort to analyze crime statistics.
In addressing the commission, however, Beck and Godown hammered on a message that top police officials have been sounding for weeks: that neither race nor any other single factor can explain the increase in homicides.
In fact, they said, department statistics for this year found that in cases in which police have information about the suspect, the vast majority of alleged assailants in the killings of Latinos were other Latinos and the vast majority in killings of blacks were other blacks.
Of 57 Latinos killed this year, 87% are believed to have been struck down by other Latinos, the LAPD data show. (Those statistics do not include several cases in which the race of the suspect is unknown and one case in which the assailant is white.)
Nearly two-thirds of black homicide victims, meanwhile, are suspected to have been killed by other blacks. In about one of every three cases, the killer is thought to be Latino—up from 14% over all of 2007. But even in instances in which a Latino is believed to have killed a black person or vice versa this year, police insist that there is no evidence that points to race being the primary factor in the homicide.
“Anyone who is saying that race is not a factor at all is not completely in touch with the feelings of people on the streets,” said John Hope Bryant, chairman of Operation HOPE. Referring to Shaw, Bryant said police would be “hard pressed to tell people on the streets that it is not about race . . . when two Hispanics approach you with a clear energy that is about race and shoot you dead.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst who heads the Urban Policy Roundtable, echoed Bryant.
“They do not want to inflame tensions; I understand that,” he said. “But . . . they also must not disarm a community by not fully coming to grips with the possibility” that race is a factor in some cases.
Despite the new numbers from the LAPD, authorities have said in the past that race-based violence has been a problem in some L.A. neighborhoods. Federal prosecutors last year charged members of a Latino gang with a violent campaign to drive blacks out of the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood, which allegedly resulted in 20 homicides over several years.
In the Harbor Gateway district of L.A., police launched a crackdown last year on another Latino gang accused of targeting blacks, including 14-year-old Cheryl Green, whose death became a rallying point. In 2006, members of the Avenues, a Latino gang, were convicted in federal court for a series of assaults and killings in the early 1990s targeting blacks in Highland Park.