Friday, June 08, 2007

Tarso Luis Ramos, Director of Research of a group called Political Research Associates has recently taken me to task at for using the term "ethnic cleansing" to describe the scores of racially motivated attacks against Blacks committed by Hispanic gang members.

The gist of Mr. Ramos' critique is that my analysis of the situation is colored by my "apparent right wing leanings." His evidence of my political orientation is that some things I've written have appeared in "rightwing culture warrior David Horowitz’s Web magazine Frontpagemag" and that my publisher also published Victor David Hanson's "Mexifornia."

Ramos calls me "the most persistent purveyor of the ethnic cleansing frame." Maybe it's because I was the first to notice. The simple truth of the matter is, I didn't go looking for that particular story. When I started doing research some ten years ago, I had no idea such a thing existed. I first started hearing about it from my interviews with active and retired gangsters and from street cops. I clearly remember back in 1999, a cop told me that in his reporting district, black citizens (not gangsters) were safe on one side of the street but put their lives at risk if they crossed over. And when I heard the same thing from other sources in other parts of the county, it was clear that a pattern existed.

And as explained to me by people in the neighborhoods, they didn't want their V(B)arrio (take your pick) to "turn into Watts." When asked what they meant by that, I leave to your imagination what they said. It would make a Klansman proud.

Then I collected about a dozen court cases documenting racially motivated violence and murder and I shotgunned a bunch of query letters and phone calls to the usual media. At the time, even I wasn't calling it ethnic cleansing or a race war. To me, it was just a new development on an old problem.

Regular readers already know the response I got. Some flat out refused to accept that this was happening. Some were afraid that running the piece would stoke a race war. Or I had an agenda. Or I was trying to make Mexicans look bad. From Los Angeles Magazine, LACityBeat, LA Weekly, the Daily News, OC Register, NY Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly - you name it - there were lots of excuses not to run with the story.

During that slog to get the facts out, I called the NAACP, Rainbow Push and other Black civil rights groups repeatedly. I asked for comments on the phenomenon. They told me, "Someone will get back to you." No one ever did. The only Black group to respond was Islamic Hope. And they, meaning Najee Ali, were already aware of the situation. And Ali minced no words in telling me why the "established" Black groups had plugged their ears and covered their eyes to the realities on the street. He was running into the same stone wall with them and the media. Clearly I wasn't alone.

There was another group that ran into a media and "activist" stone wall -- the families of the victims. Nobody wanted to touch it because when it came to choosing between ideology and speaking out for those who can no longer speak, ideology won out in this case. Unlike the ideologically blinded, the families had no illusions about the nature of the forces that took away their loved ones. Perhaps Mr. Ramos would like to speak to them directly.

It was the survivors and the attitudes of people on the street that finally got me to thinking of the situation in terms of ethnic cleansing. What was the point of the attacks and homicides? In the words of one perp, it was to "keep them from infesting the neighborhood." Whether the words come out of a Latino, a white guy with a hood, a Hutu, a Tutsi or a Bosnian, it is the language of intolerance. So excuse me for pointing that out.

Does it rise to the level of ethnic cleansing? Certainly it's not on the same scale as Bosnia. Or Darfur. I came to the conclusion, however, that in terms of INTENT, there's no difference between killing one guy or a thousand. After all, what's the threshold? Is ten dead guys enough to qualify? A hundred? The intent is to intimidate, frighten and drive off anyone else thinking of living where they choose to live or drive where they want (Wilson) or carry a boom box (Bowser) or rent an apartment (Prudhomme). Because the perps didn't succeed to the extent they desired does not lessen their intent to drive innocent people out of the hood. So what do you call it?

The question Mr. Ramos raises in his piece is "Who Gains From Framing Gang Attacks in LA as "'Ethnic Cleansing'"? Bluntly speaking, the question itself is obscene. I never once framed the issue in terms of immigration or a battle between conservative or liberal politics. I never articulated the issue as anything other than what it was.

And "gain?" What is that? As if the murder of innocents is some kind of political chess match? I don't even know that math.

It's hard to figure out if Mr. Ramos is in favor of suppressing news or just making sure to spin it in a way that doesn't give anyone some kind of "gain." He quotes Sheilagh Polk, the media relations manager at the Community Coalition that the media, “have played a significant role in escalating gang violence.”“When you have Fox news broadcasting about racial violence inside prisons, that creates pressure outside to retaliate.” I've heard a lot of reasons for escalating violence but news stories about it have never been at the top of the list. Or anywhere on it. If media coverage is a causal component of violence, then does non-coverage lead to peace? Based on her premise, let's stop reporting gang violence altogether so gangs won't feel the need to retaliate. Ignore them and maybe they'll go away.

Mr. Ramos also quotes Aqeela Sherrills, a gang expert. Sherrills believes that the Mexican Mafia is run by businessmen who find "no advantage in a generalized conflict with African Americans." Which is why the two groups get along so well in prison. But at least he got the businessmen part right. His comment underscores a certain naivete about the nature of that business and the dictum that "In chaos, there is profit." And a destabilized competitor is a weak competitor.

I could spend the rest of the day going through Mr. Ramos' assertions and conclusions. But it's tiresome.

The bottom line is that we've got serious social issues to handle and we're not getting anywhere by worrying about what part of the political spectrum is gaining or losing ground. Call me a liar, call me a Troglodyte, tell me I'm full of crap, an alarmist, sensationalist or a right wing whack job. It won't stop what's happening on street. Over to you Tarso.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Here's a link to one of the most revealing articles I've ever read about a dropout. It ran in today's Whittier Daily News and underscores few salient points about the generational nature of the gang culture and the seduction of false power. It's clear the writer, Sandy Mazza has been following this story for some time. Nice work.