Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blacks vs. Latinos: Can we all just get along?

I have been contemplating this blog for weeks as I observe the rising tensions between blacks and latinos in our community. And now, in the wake of the on-going fighting between blacks and latinos in the Los Angeles County Jail System, I have to begin comment...

For those of you who don't know, there has been major violence at the Peter Pitchess Detention Center in North Los Angeles County for weeks, perhaps months.. Blacks, who are heavily outnumbered, have been fighting with latinos who, by some accounts, have been given the green light to kill and hurt blacks by the Mexican Mafia. There have been deaths and serious injury and the entire Los Angeles Jail system is on lockdown. We don't hear about the state penetentiaries that are on lockdown because of black vs. brown fighting.

There's an article in today's Washington Post (Calif. Jail Riots Display Divide) which provides an interesting overview of the problem. It's center thesis is that the Jail riots point to a larger problem on the streets of Los Angeles. That is, Latinos and Blacks are engaged in a fight for survival in LA. Blacks are being shut out of jobs, violence between the two groups rocked 12 schools last year. And in the area of hate crimes, which was dominated by whites vs. blacks in years past, now are overwhelmingly latino vs. black.

On May 5, (Cinco De Mayo - a Mexican Holiday that celebrates the Mexican Army's triumph over French Soldiers in the 1800's), black students have stayed home the last couple of years, because Latino graffitti at the schools have warned them to do so... The graffitti tells them that if they come to school they will get shot. Last year, a widely spread e-mail warned the city of such violence and while the e-mail was determined to be a hoax, unofficial estimates say that more than 70% of all black students in the LA Unified School District stayed home on that day. The e-mail was supposedly generated from an official at the LA County Probation office who called themselves warning the community based on what they heard from thier "clients". Last year, there were reports of graffitti that point to latino only bathrooms and black only bathrooms. To violate this street edict will get the student hurt. It is a scary time for the community.

I remember the aforementioned e-mail well, because I was invited to participate in a student forum that was supposed to get high school and middle school students from the "inner city" interested in going to college and pursuing a career. The forum was held on the campus of Cal State Pomona and included around 500 kids. The past week had been tumultuous at several high schools, the most serious issues taking place at Jefferson High School where rioting between blacks and browns caused the school to be shut down. I went to the parent-teacher assembly hastily put together by school officials, including the LAUSD Administration, local politicians and police officials. I heard the rhetoric for peace from the stage. I heard the appeals from so-called community activists. I saw the parents, black parents outnumbered ten-fold by latino parents, taking it all in.. I witnessed the looks of hatred given by latinos to blacks and returned by blacks - I'm talking the parents here... I heard the student body president, who was latino, aggressively proclaim "We run this school!!" Now, I don't know if she was saying that from a universal student aspect including all the students, but it sounded like she was proclaiming latino supremacy.

I heard the black students not only express thier fear, but thier wish for solidarity with latino students, but I noticed that they had no political clout. This school is on the track system.. and each track has its own student government. As each track stepped to the mic to represent, I noticed they were all latino, all saying the same thing how they ran the school - some adding that they would solve thier own problems..The black students had no voice... I also noticed that, according to the black students, the LAUSD School Police had a lot to review in thier handling of the violence. Seems they got a little over zealous in dealing with the black students, traumatizing some of the students as they tearfuly described how the school police responded....

Later that week, I was at the aforementioned student forum. I took the opportunity to discuss the black vs. brown issue with the kids. There, I learned about the threat to black students on Cinco De Mayo. The latino students told me that there were a few bad apples causing all the problems and that we were "all the same" but racism and prejudice has overtaken the campus and the black students would probably get hurt if they came to school on May 5. Some of the latino girls told me how racism is prevalent in thier homes especially from relatives from south of the border. They had to sneak if they wanted to date black boys. At the dinner table, their parents and relatives would dinigrate thier black neighbors. I mean, I really got a sense of just how bad the issue is...

I've heard, from my time on the radio, how blacks exhibit attitudes toward the latinos, that rivals what any klan or white supremacy rhetoric can dish out. I mean, how we look at immigration policies. How we talk about the "takeover" of America by immigrants. How we need to police the borders.. If you hear this talk and then compare it with white supremacy websites and conservative talk shows.. the rhetoric is the same!! It's a very interesting paradigm...

Now, I live in the community. I actually have no problem with the latino. I'm trying to live my life loving all of humankind.. That is my edict as a man of God, but I gotta admit, I see the hatred exhibited by latinos towards us. On the street, in the grocery store, being served by latinos, nowadays in a store or restaurant, you can feel the disdain they have for us... I'm a native Californian(this is rare) and cannot for the life of me figure out what went wrong. I mean back in the day in San Diego, a border town, we were together, blacks and browns. We marched with them as they addressed greivances in the fields and they marched with us as we addressed greivances of discrimination. Even those of you from LA can remember the latino walking side by side with us in battle after battle. Even Mayor Villaraigosa comes from that coalition of black and brown together - in fact, it is on that platform that he won his election. So what happened? How do we fix it? Is it fixable?

Just to give you a glimpse of the numbers, according to radio audience measurements, Los Angeles is 43% latino and 9% black. Statewide, almost a third of California's 36 million people are Hispanic while blacks have fallen to 6.7 percent of the state's population.

Last week, a parade of activists, clergy and journalists were allowed to visit Peter Pitchess Detention Center. They were allowed to speak with inmates, both black and latino. This was a good move, I feel on the part of the LA Sherriff Department, but I understand that most of the visitors seeking solutions were black. I wonder where the latino clergy and activists were? This is the problem sometimes... I don't see the latinos trying to come to the table of peace. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just do not see it... I don't see them trying to move toward cooperation and peace. I see black folk doing what they can to try and deal with the issue, but I don't see brown people. hmmm

One of my colleagues went on such a visit and she tells me that the latinos who are from here blame the latinos who are south of the border. This makes sense to me because I feel most of the attitudes coming from those latinos who are newly immigrated... Such latinos are called "southsiders"... They are highly organized and some are hardened by war in thier native countries. They are vicious and take advantage of the small numbers of blacks plus the fact that blacks can't seem to form a united front against the attacks (hmmm).. And you know what? They can't stand the northern latinos!! But still they find a way to unite...

My brother-in-law has experience with the California correctional system and he tells me that when you get off the bus, there are some facilities where you know it's run by latinos and you better fight or die. And then there's others, while declining, that are run by blacks. He also tells me that yes, blacks are majorly outnumbered inside the jail system. Sometimes when you get on the bus to go to court or to the various jails throughout the county, there's 40 latinos to 10 blacks. It's pressure.

But how does what happens behind bars dictate to us free, law abiding folk the way we should live, or regard other people??

My church had law enforcement Sunday this past weekend. It is an annual event where all the members who are law enforcement, military, and fire get to wear thier uniforms and remember the fallen. They ask for our prayers and support as they go about thier dangerous jobs. For me, it's an interesting day,because here you are with a bunch of cops - WITH GUNS - in the house of the Lord.. It's a unsettling picture for me... But the LAPD Chief was there, the LAFD Chief was there, the head of probation was there and tons of cops, sherriffs, wardens and superintendents from various correctional institutions around the state all came to praise the Lord with us that day. There was a lot of ceremony around the loss of officers in the line of duty as it should have been, but not one word was uttered about the black vs brown problems inside the jails. After church I introduced myself to the Asst. Warden of Corcoran (Corocoran is one of California's most notorious prisons), I asked him about the black vs. brown issue. He told me that it is way worse than what we are reading in the papers. He told me that Corocoran has been on lockdown for a year and a half while they try to deal with the issues. He is at a loss... it's a culture he said that browns can kill and hate blacks. A culture.... wow.

He has a lot to say about it and soon I will get his conversation on tape as soon as I can arrange it...

We live in the same neighborhoods, we even like the same music, clothing styles why can't we get along?

In the work place, we are seeing more lawsuits and grievances filed against latinos by blacks who say they have been discriminated against or passed over for promotions and jobs in favor of latinos.. This, in an area that used to be dominated by lawsuits of blacks vs. whites.

We're hearing the stress of the everyday citizen who is tired of going to work and dealing with prejudice and discrimination but then when they come home, in thier own community, it's more of the same from thier latino neighbors.

The situation is critical. What should we do? What is the solution?

Can't we all just get along?


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