May 16, 2005
The world is full of people who are convinced someone is out
to get them. Media people tend to ignore these folks and the
issues that become the center-point of their apparent paranoia.
However, as we analyze this weeks Mayoral election
here in Los Angeles, let me share a scenario with you that
has picked up a lot of traction in our minority communities.
It is a telling tale of the type of hype, or truth as the
case may be, that becomes reality for some people. And when
all the analysis of the election is completed, it is possible
the contents of this story may have played a role.
This is an in-depth story about Black-Brown tensions in Los
Angeles and whether they are real or whether they have been
manipulated by some political elements.
For those of you who live outside of Los Angeles, you may
have missed my recent comments about the folks who have been
on edge because of increasing racial tension between Blacks
and Mexicans. Over the past month or so there have been a
few brawls at local high schools, including a big one at Jefferson
High School, just south of downtown L.A. involving more than
Then the tensions were inflamed by a letter that was circulating
around the city last week claiming that in retaliation for
some beef between Black and Latino gangs, 500 Black kids wearing
white t-shirts would be targeted and killed by Mexican gangs
on Cinch de Mayo.
Fortunately nothing remotely close to that happened but the
scare was strong enough that 51,000 L.A. Unified School District
students stayed home from school. Thats close to 20%
of the school district.
There was one reported standoff between Black and Latino students
at Lynwood High, located next to Compton, but that was quickly
quelled. Obviously, 500 African-Americans did not get killed,
but someone was working hard to ensure tensions were still
high as people headed into the weekend and Cinch de Mayo celebrations
developed all over L.A.
Out of all this came a new letter that received surprisingly
wide circulation, having been sent via email, and then later
reproduced and passed out in malls and campuses throughout
Los Angeles. For the most part, the letter appears to be a
hoax. Folks who work closely with the gangs in L.A. have not
heard of any craziness like this happening, but because the
letter has been so widely circulated, it led to some town
hall meetings and increased police presence on all the high
school campuses in South Los Angeles.
The letter read as follows:
Hey everyone, We all have friends who this can affect,
unfortunately. This is not a joke, and you know this if you've
been watching the news lately. There are no city limits on
the actions taking place below. Please read below and take
it very seriously.
Unfortunately, the word on the street (which has been confirmed
by a probation officer) is that the Rolling 60's (an LA gang)
stole 160 kilos of cocaine from the Mexican Mafia. In retaliation,
the Mexican Mafia and other Mexican gangs have decided to
target and kill 400-1000 black men of all ages who are wearing
white t-shirts. This is not limited to the freeways..... I
understand that this is very real and very serious. Please
pass this on to EVERYONE that you know. I suggest you do not
wear any white shirts at all if possible. Also, if you have
on a dress shirt, consider wearing your jacket over it.
THAT was pretty scary, though it could be argued that if
it were true, law enforcement personnel would probably have
issued some sort of quiet warning to community leaders.
Its important to note that this on-going beef between
Black and Brown is not happening in a vacuum and seems to
be sparking off in cities with large minority populations
with increasing regularity, but we have had a franchise on
it here in L.A. for quite a while. What started this phenomenon
other than the sheer pressure of different cultures trying
to occupy the same space?
I caught up with an L.A. rapper not too long ago who spoke
on the seriousness of this situation. He spends a lot of time
working to heal any rifts which he says start from the racial
segregation and the divide and conquer techniques
used in the California prison system. The way he sees it,
this tactic has now spilled out onto the streets and is starting
to impact everyday folks to buy into these rumors of conflict.
For those who dont see the connection with the California
penal system, you should know that inmates are separated by
race, ethnicity and gang affiliation. Because the Latino population
is so large (almost a third of the state prison population
is Latino), prison officials separate Northern and Southern
California Mexicans/Latinos. Within the prisons gangs, some
alliances have been made with Northern Mexicans, known as
Nortenos, hooking up with Black inmates.
The Southern Mexicans, known as Surenos, are aligning themselves
with the White Arayan Brotherhood. The initial split with
Northern and Southern Mexicans is something that many feel
was a well orchestrated divide and conquer plan
that state politicos put into effect years ago to stem any
sort of large state-wide Brown block that was holding and
yielding major social and political power.
The rapper I spoke with sees Blacks and Browns as related
to one another socially and that both groups have to be aware
of the outside forces that continuously work to keep large
groups of people divided and separated. Black and Brown unity
has become a threat to some who want to maintain their traditional
power structure and see the large minority numbers as a threat
to everything from job security to political outcomes on key
He also opined that authorities, especially the police, seem
to work overtime to try and stir up problems after the Rodney
King riot when many of the Crip and Blood sets formed a truce.
He claims the undermining efforts were also directed at the
Latino gangs who also formed truces after the riots. When
those efforts by the police failed to eradicate the truces,
we suddenly started to find an increase in tensions between
Black and Brown. The rapper says the latest scenario involving
the letter warning Black kids to not wear white t-shirts on
Cinco de Mayo was a deliberate attempt to create drama where
there wasn't any.
It should also be noted that recent racial tensions have been
exacerbated by a hostile political climate here in California.
Part of it centers on the recent remarks and subsequent endorsement
voiced by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of the controversial
Minutemen vigilantes patrolling the U.S./Mexican border. The
"Governator", an Austrian immigrant, said he supports
the Minutemen and though he backtracked later, he said the
border should be closed. He later blamed his lack of command
of the English language for his political blunder that drew
a lot of heat.
His remarks have been compounded by the objections voiced
by other political leaders in LA who felt that a number of
recently erected billboards advertising a Spanish language
radio station were offensive. The billboards, which say Welcome
to Los Angles, Mexico with the letters for California,
CA, crossed out, were a promotion gimmick allegedly designed
to attract Spanish viewers. Instead, it drew anti-Mexican
Many forget that a lot of folks of Mexican descent are keenly
aware that the California is one of the seven western states
that was once a part of what was called Atzlan. In other words,
there is a strong sense among the more radical of Mexicans
that they did not cross the border illegally. Rather, they
take the position that the border crossed them and that at
the end of the day, this is indigenous land.
Naturally, that theory has a rather narrow following although
the most right-wing zealots denounce this notion as pure fiction,
trying to erase the history that buttresses such a feeling.
Some have gone so far as to try and shut down and silence
professors and other public educators who have spoken about
All this controversy has not been lost in the background
discussions about the L.A. Mayoral race.
There has been some quiet speculation about this latest rise
in tension between Black and Brown and concerns that it may
actually be connected to the highly contentious mayoral campaign
and the fear of many that a Mexican Mayor will favor Latinos
to the exclusion of Blacks and Whites. Even though Antonio
Villariagosa received the blessing of prominent Black leaders
including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former police chief
Bernard Parks, county supervisor Yvonne Burke, and former
LA Laker and mega-businessman Magic Johnson, the tremendous
mistrust on the streets by many Blacks matched the White fear
that the old days of political dominance are really gone for
That has prompted some minority leaders to wonder out loud
why we suddenly have had a surge in school race battles and
the email and letter threats of Blacks being killed by Latinos.
The timing and possible political implications of this have
not gone unnoticed. Was there a political conspiracy behind
the clashes? Was someone in power trying to scare conservative
White voters into blocking the ascension of a skilled and
effective legislator like Villaraigosa as Mayor of the nations
second largest city?
No one is surprised any more by the depths of political skullduggery
and the negative attack ads that have littered our televisions
and radios, not to mention our mail boxes. We are living in
a new era of a majority population that is minority. Latinos,
Blacks and Asians together constitute nearly three quarters
of the L.A. population.
No one should be surprised that political change needs to
keep pace with the changing faces and voices in our great
Los Angeles. There is no time like the present to jump in
head first and see if Latinos can govern such a diverse community
and one in such great need of healing and getting along.
It doesnt take a conspiracy to achieve harmony and
political unity in L.A. It just takes the willingness of the
larger community to decide that while we can disagree on many
things, we should work together on those issues upon which
we do agree and learn to celebrate all of our strengths, and
stop allowing the miscreants who work overtime to exploit