Baca: Gang Hate Crimes

John Schwanda, John_Schwanda’s Newsroom, April 15, 2008

LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, on April 4th, told a largely African-American audience in Compton that when Latino gangs are at war with black gangs over drugs and turf they are sometimes satisfied to kill any young black living in their rival’s territory in order to flex their criminal muscle. In other words, Baca asserted innocents are being targeted for death by gangs just because of their race. Sounds like a hate-crime to most of us.

Fox 11 News obtained a videotape of the remarks Baca made to the National Association for Equal Justice in America; those remarks, taped by Lonzo Williams, a cable TV talk-show host, were included in a Fox 11 story that aired Friday (April 10) as part of our continuing coverage of the murder of Jamiel Shaw, a promising LA High School football player, allegedly killed by an 18th Street gang member on March 2.

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Here is exactly what Baca told the African-American audience in Compton: “I don’t say it’s all but there is a percent of these Latino kids killing blacks because of a race-related motivation. That is my opinion.”

Pretty explosive stuff. And then Baca went a step further, claiming his deputies had overheard jailed Latino gang bosses (so-called “shot-callers”) telling their followers on the outside that, in a feud with a black gang, it was okay to kill any blacks to make their point. “We’ve heard when the person out there can’t find African-American gang member to shoot, the shot-caller says: ‘Then shoot any African-American you see.’” (Jamiel Shaw’s father was in the audience that day and Baca looked him straight in the eye when he made these remarks; but the sheriff did NOT specifically say if he believed Shaw’s murder was racially-motivated).

Baca’s observations put him at odds with LAPD chief Bill Bratton.

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In February 2007, Fox 11 News did a story about a series of black-on-Latino, Latino-on-black murders along Central Avenue in the LAPD’s Newton Division. The killings had to do with a war between an African-American gang, the Rollin’ 30’s (and their Rollin’ 20’s allies), and the East Side Treces, a Latino gang. Some of those killed were recognized gang members but others were innocents—NOT killed by stray bullets but essentially executed. The brutal murder of three young Latinos, including a 10-year-old, on 49rd Street on June 30, 2006 was a landmark event in this savagery. (Almost a year later several Rollin’ 30’s members were arrested for these murders).

What was the point of blacks murdering these young Latinos? Had the interracial gang warfare reached such a debased point of tribalism that killing anyone of the rival race was okay? That was the question we asked….

Bratton’s reply to Fox 11’s questions started out at one end of the spectrum and, over time, moved toward the other end. On Feb. 7, 2007, Bratton told me the following about the Central Avenue killings: “There are several incidents that we feel in that area were the direct result of targeting because of race (my emphasis). There’s been speculation about other incidents—and that has not been the case, proven to be the case.”

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A month after Nelly’s murder, on April 4, 2007, Bratton and Mayor Villaraigosa held a news conference to proudly trumpet a 12 percent city-wide decline in gang-related crime.

But when I reminded the pair gang crime was up 20.5 percent in Newton Division (the precinct that includes the Central Avenue area beleaguered by the Rollin’ 30’s-East Side Treces feud), their mood turned sour. Bratton acknowledged that “certain areas of the city are struggling. Newton is one of those.” However, he snapped: “Are we engaged in a race war down there? Certainly not.” (In fact, this statement badly misrepresented our story—which simply suggested some of the victims might have been killed not because of their gang affiliation but because of their race).

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