Los Angeles’ two top lawmen are increasingly at odds over the extent to which gang violence is being fueled by racial hatred.
Police Chief William J. Bratton and his top deputies have long cautioned that race-motivated violence remains fairly rare and that gang feuds over turf and drugs are the leading causes of such violence.
But over the last few months, Sheriff Lee Baca has publicly voiced a more ominous view of violence between Latino and black gangs. This week, he went further than ever, saying in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that “some of L.A.’s so-called gangs are really no more than loose-knit bands of blacks or Latinos roaming the streets looking for people of the other color to shoot.”
Baca’s comments have prompted debate in law enforcement circles—with some Los Angeles Police Department officials questioning some of his assertions.
A Times examination of slayings in 2007 largely backed Bratton’s assertion about the racial factor in gang killings. The Times analyzed the circumstances of 562 Latino and black homicides from 2007 in which the race of the suspects was known, including all LAPD and sheriff’s cases, plus those of smaller police agencies such as Long Beach and Inglewood. The analysis found that nearly 90% of both black and Latino homicide victims had been killed by suspects of their own race.
The issue has been particularly sensitive for Bratton and his command staff in recent months.
Faced with a serious rise in the homicide rate in the early part of the year and several high-profile killings, Bratton, Beck and others battled media reports and public perception that the violence was racially motivated. In one instance, Bratton angrily confronted a television news reporter who challenged the chief’s stance on the issue. Bratton’s assertion that the high number of killings was an anomaly has been largely borne out as the homicide rate has fallen significantly in recent months.