Los Angeles’ two top lawmen are increasingly at odds over the extent to which gang violence is being fueled by racial hatred, reports the Los Angeles Times. Police Chief William 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. County Sheriff Lee Baca has 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.”
“The sheriff is saying we need to examine this issue in the light of day to keep it from spreading because we won’t be able to address or reverse it, if we deny it,” said civil rights attorney Connie Rice. “Chief Bratton is saying something equally valid, which is if you overemphasize race, you may be pouring jet fuel on the fire.” Baca told the Times: “We need to talk about this in a more public way,” Baca said, adding he had heard about the tension from community activists, beat cops, gang intervention officers and deputies who guard the county’s jails. Deputy Police Chief Charlie Beck disagreed with Baca’s conclusions about race and gang violence. Baca’s “reality is largely formed by what is happening in the jails,” Beck said.