New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The Latino victims in New York and Baltimore were beaten, robbed, and in one case, killed. These attacks are no aberration. Two years ago, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles slapped charges against Latino gang members who committed or were suspected of complicity in 20 killings in the area. Their targets were black residents. The arrests came several months after the slaying of three black students in Newark, N.J., by illegal Latino immigrants, some with alleged gang ties.
Two years before the Newark killings, Latino men were robbed, beaten and even murdered in Plainfield, N.J.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Annapolis, Md. Meanwhile, seven members of a Latino family were slain in Indianapolis. The attackers in all cases were young black males. Police speculated that they regarded the victims—mostly undocumented workers—as easy prey for robbery since they would be reluctant to report the attacks to police.
The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission recently found that a growing number of the hate attacks in the region over the past five years have been committed by Latinos and blacks. Latinos and blacks also committed the bulk of the racially motivated attacks against each other. Nationally, blacks and Latinos commit about one in five hate crimes. The racially tinged violence in Los Angeles, Staten Island, and east Baltimore is not the norm—yet.
The overwhelming majority of assaults and murders of blacks are by blacks, and most attacks on Latinos are by Latinos. But the ethnically motivated attacks, no matter how infrequent, stir fear, rage and panic, while deepening racial divisions. This is especially true given the increasingly open unease and hostility many blacks express toward illegal immigration—anger no doubt stoked by Arizona’s draconian law SB 1070— coupled with the astronomical levels of joblessness among young blacks.
The simple explanation for the hate violence in Los Angeles is that the perpetrators are bored, restless, disaffected, jobless, untutored or violence-prone gang members engaging in bloody turf battles to control the drug trade. But the assaults are also a twisted response to racism and deprivation. The attacks no doubt are deliberately designed by t gang members to send the message to blacks that “this is our turf, and you’re an interloper.”
The vehemence of the racial hate should also surprise no one. Many Latinos continue to blame blacks for their own poverty or stereotype them as clowns, buffoons and crooks. Some routinely repeat the same vicious anti-black epithets spewn by racist whites. A 1998 poll found that Latinos were three times more likely than whites to believe that blacks were incapable of getting ahead. Black activists have protested the racially skewed depictions of blacks on some Spanish-language TV shows. These myths and stereotypes bolster the notion that blacks are a racial and competitive threat.
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 that they are unable to support .
The misconceptions and fears that both groups have about each other drown out genuine efforts to lessen tensions. It’s clear that those efforts are needed now more than ever.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson