For the most part, the role racial animosity has played in gang crime has gone unexamined, largely undocumented in crime statistics and often tamped down by politicians and law enforcement officials anxious about inflaming tensions, says the Los Angeles Times. That changed this month when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William Bratton and County Sheriff Lee Baca all spoke with unusual candor of their concern that an increasing number of gang crimes appear to be born out of racial hatred. In a few instances, police have identified Latino gangs they say are indiscriminately targeting African American residents in what appear to be campaigns to drive blacks from some neighborhoods.
A Times analysis found that the vast majority of the most serious gang crime remains intra-racial: Latinos attacking Latinos, blacks attacking blacks. Last year there were more than 2,700 black-on-black or Latino-on-Latino incidents compared with slightly more than 500 interracial attacks. In cases where gang-related homicide, aggravated assault, or robbery crossed racial lines, police tracking shows an 11 percent jump in incidents from 2002 to 2006; from 213 to 240 black-on-Latino attacks; and from 247 to 269 Latino-on-black attacks. As those interracial crimes rose, intra-racial gang attacks fell by 23 percent, from 3,577 to 2,780. In a city where blacks and Latinos make up 96 percent of known gang members and often live in proximity, it would be logical that the two groups account for the vast majority of interracial gang crime. Said Bratton: “Both street and prison gangs are constituted on race. But the reality is, most gang crime is motivated by greed and territory. Nevertheless, it is right that penalties are enhanced for hate crimes, and the LAPD will continue to aggressively investigate them.”