Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Painful Dirty Secret:
Latinos and Blacks Commit Hate Crimes—Against Each Other
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The much publicized crackdown on a Latino gang that unleashed a three year campaign to drive blacks out of a mixed neighborhood in South Los Angeles ripped open a dirty and very painful secret. Latinos and blacks can and do commit hate crimes against each other. The violence can be just as deadly as the worst Southern Klan, Aryan Nation, or Skinhead attacks. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles say Latino gang members committed or are suspected of complicity in 20 killings during its reign of terror in the area. The arrests and indictment of the gang members came barely two months after the slaying of three black students in Newark, New Jersey by illegal Latino immigrants, some with alleged gang ties.

But two years before the Newark killings, Latino men were robbed, beaten and even murdered in Plainfield, New Jersey, in Jacksonville, Florida, and in Annapolis, Maryland, and seven members of a Latino family were murdered in Indianapolis. The attackers in all cases were young black males. The men attacked were mostly undocumented workers, and police speculated that the attackers regarded them as easy prey for robbery since they would be reluctant to report the attacks to the police.
A Los Angeles county Human Relations Commission report on hate violence in 2005 found that overall Latinos committed nearly half of the hate attacks in the County, while blacks committed thirty percent of the hate attacks. However, when it was Latino and black violence, the figure for hate violence soared. Latinos and blacks committed the bulk of the racially motivated hate attacks against each other. Nationally, blacks and Latinos commit about one in five hate crimes, and many of their victims, as in Los Angeles, are other blacks or Latinos.

This represents two more disturbing trends. One is that blacks and Latinos committed the majority of hate crimes in Los Angeles, and a sizeable number of them nationally. The other is that hate crimes are increasingly being committed by blacks and Latinos against each other and that in some cases the victims are innocent random victims of the violence.

The racial tinged violence in Los Angeles, Newark, and the other cities is not the norm--yet. The overwhelming majority of physical assaults and murders of blacks are by blacks and most attacks on Latinos are by Latinos. However, black and Latino racial attacks against each other, no matter how infrequent, as is the case with white on black hate attacks, stir fear, rage, and panic, and deepen racial divisions. That’s especially true given the latent and increasingly openly expressed unease and hostility many blacks express toward illegal immigration.

There are two easy explanations for the hate violence in Los Angeles and nationally. One is that the perpetrators are bored, restless, disaffected, jobless, untutored, or violence-prone gang members engaging a bloody turf battles to control the drug trade. That seemed to be the case with the Florencia 13 street gang, the target of the federal crackdown.

The other explanation is that the violence is a twisted response to racism and deprivation. The attacks no doubt are deliberately designed by the gang hate purveyors to send the message to blacks that “this is our turf, and you’re an interloper.

There is still another reason, though, more subtle and nuanced, as to why some gang members commit racial attacks. The violence is a source of ego gratification for them; negative stereotypes provided a convenient rationale for their violent acts. University researchers found that those individuals who suffer low self-esteem or have serious self-image problems are much more likely to view others, especially those they consider rivals, through the warped lens of racial stereotypes.

Then there is the vehemence of the racial hate. The dirtier and even more painful secret is that blacks and Latinos can be as racist toward each other as some whites can be toward them. It’s easy to see why. Many Latinos continue to demean blacks for their poverty or type them as clowns, buffoons and crooks. Some routinely repeat the same vicious anti-black epithets as racist whites. A 1998 poll by the National Conference, a nonprofit organization that promotes racial dialogue, found that Latinos were three times more likely than whites to believe that blacks were incapable of getting ahead. These myths and stereotypes bolster the notion that blacks are a racial and competitive threat, and any distancing, ostracism, avoidance and even violence toward them seems a rational response to keep blacks at arm’s length.

But stereotypes can cut two ways. Some blacks feed on the same myths and negative images of Latinos as anti-black, violence-prone gangsters who pose a menace, and who are their ethnic and economic competitors. The same 1998 poll found that as many blacks as whites believed that Latinos breed big families and that they are unable to support them. The skewed misconceptions and fears both groups have about and toward each other in many instances drown out the efforts by many residents in South Los Angeles and other neighborhoods in other cities where the racial attacks occur to lessen tensions.

The galling new fact in America is that hate can come with a black or brown face, and the victim can have the same face. That’s yet another heart wrenching challenge for blacks and Latinos.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press).