There’s no physical sign, barrier or even a chalk line that marks the zone where a black can’t enter at the risk of grave harm. But the zone is there, and blacks know that if they enter it they can be beat, shot at or killed. The twist is that the forbidden zone is not in a redneck, backwoods town in a Southern state during the rigid and violent Jim Crow segregation era. The bigger twist is that the Klan, Neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and bikers didn’t establish the racially restrictive zone. Purported Latino gang members established it. The forbidden zone is in a small, mixed ethnic bedroom community in Los Angeles. The year is 2007, not 1947.
A black family that recently fled the community in fear for their lives bluntly told a reporter that they left because blacks there are scared to death. In the past year, the hate terror escalated to the point where blacks tell tormenting tales of being harried when they leave their homes, or their children walk to school. They say that they are forbidden to go into a park, and a convenience store.
This is not a bad case of racial paranoia run amok. Blacks have been taunted, harassed, beaten and shot at in this community. But the tragic murder of a 14-year-old black girl and the wounding of two other young blacks in the forbidden zone sparked anguish, rage, and finally drew some local media attention. The murder drew gasps of disbelieve that in America in 2007 -- in a big, Northern cosmopolitan city with a Latino mayor, and that routinely back pats itself for its ethnic diversity -- there is an entire area that blacks are banned from due to fear of injury or death at the hands of other non-whites. And city officials seem powerless to do anything about it.
Though two reputed Latino gang members are charged with the teen’s murder and were slapped with a hate crime charge, the arrest and the hate charge didn’t calm the jitters and fears of blacks that live there. Even after the arrests, a number of blacks still said that they planned to get out of the area as soon as they could.
Latino on black (and black on Latino) violence is hardly an aberration in Los Angeles and other places. According to police reports, there have been more than a dozen murder attempts in other parts of Los Angeles by alleged Latino gang members on mostly young blacks that have no known gang involvement in the latter part of 2006. 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. But when it’s Latino and black violence, the figure for hate violence soars. Latinos and blacks committed the bulk of the racially motivated hate attacks against each other.
The easy explanation for the hate terror is that the perpetrators are bored, restless, disaffected, jobless, untutored, violence-prone gang members, and 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. But despite arrests, police crackdowns, gang injunctions, assorted anti-violence marches and rallies and community peace efforts, the black and Latino low-intensity battle has shown no sign of abating.
Then there’s the vehemence of the racial hate. The dirty, and painful secret is that blacks and Latinos can be racist, maybe even more racist than whites, toward each other. It’s easy to see why. Many Latinos fail to understand the complexity and severity of the black experience. They frequently bash blacks for their poverty or type them as clowns, buffoons and crooks. Some routinely repeat the same vicious anti-black epithets as racist whites. The color complex reinforces the notion that blacks are a racial and competitive threat, and any distancing, ostracism, avoidance, and even violence is a rational response to keep blacks at arms length.
On the other side, some blacks feed the same myths and racial stereotypes, and bash Latinos as anti-black, and violence prone, gangsters that are a menace, as well as ethnic and economic competitors. The warped misconceptions and fears have so far trumped the loud calls and efforts by black and Latino activists and many residents for unity and peace.
The murder of a black teen and the gradual dawning that racially-motivated hate attacks are happening right under the noses of a slumbering, maybe indifferent public and impotent city officials in a modern-day city like Los Angeles did touch a mild nerve of disgust and ignite faint demands for action. But that’s not nearly enough to erase the shame that in America in 2007, there is a zone in a big city that blacks can only enter at mortal peril. And that zone isn’t marked by a burning cross or guarded by men in menacing white sheets and hoods.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of the book, The Emerging Black GOP Majority.