Racial Tensions High in Riverside after Slaying of ROTC Student

Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2012

Relatives of a Riverside high school freshman who was shot and killed near his grandmother’s house pleaded on Monday for the public’s help to solve the seemingly random murder.

Lareanz Simmons, 14, was killed on the evening of Feb. 23 by a young Latino gunman who stepped out of a car, walked up to him and opened fire. The shooting breaks years of relative calm in an area of Riverside that has a history of violent clashes between rival black and Latino gangs.

Racial tensions have escalated sharply since the shooting occurred in Riverside’s eastside neighborhood, where police have responded to an apparent uptick in shootings and confiscated an increasing number of firearms being stockpiled by parolees and crime suspects, authorities said.

Investigators said Simmons, who was African American, was a good student and had no gang ties. The freshman was a member of the Junior ROTC program at Riverside’s Poly High School, and had dreams of joining the military or becoming a police officer, said his grandmother Bernice Hobdy.

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{snip} Solving the murder is a priority not only because Simmons’ family deserves justice, Diaz said, but also to calm the rising tensions in the neighborhood.

“We don’t know why Lareanz was killed,” Diaz said. “As long as we don’t know, and the community doesn’t know, there are a lot of community tensions out there … We are seeing what appears to be an increasing number of suspects carrying weapons and stockpiling weapons and ammunitions in their homes.”

Woodie Rucker-Hughes, head of the local NAACP chapter, said violence and gang activity in Riverside’s eastside neighborhood had been on the decline in the past few years, with black and Latino community leaders working together to address any lingering racial animosities.

“It had reached a point where there was a calm, which we enjoyed. But we were always cognizant that there would be some out there—I call them knuckleheads—who wanted to keep a schism between black and brown,” Rucker-Hughes said. “It’s tense now. There are more shootings in the neighborhood. Something is brewing.”

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