LatinaLista — The issue of tensions existing between blacks and Latinos, in this day and age, has always been quickly pooh-poohed. The consensual feeling is that both communities have reached the heights of education, political sophistication and cooperation that the rivalry that once spurred harsh words, resentment, competition and even fights is now only a footnote in history.
If only it was.
A 2006 picture shows the overcrowded conditions inmates are subjected to at the California Institution For Men State Prison in Chino.
Tensions between blacks and Latinos are rising again. However, it's not by either community's choice. With blacks and Latinos making up the majority of prison populations and being squeezed into prisons not made for the number of inmates now housed in them, black and Latino inmates are pitted against one another like canines in a dog fight.
Living in inhumane conditions is bound to incite violence between the two largest groups of inmates but the problem is that no wall can restrain the animosity that builds between the two groups, and not even being released from prison can erase the intense hatred that was "nurtured" in prison.
These former inmates rejoin society and bring with them a new kind of tension that is far more dangerous than what has historically existed between blacks and Latinos.
Over the weekend, at the California Institution For Men State Prison in Chino, an 11-hour prison riot broke out that injured 200 inmates, 55 seriously. No one knows the incident that triggered the riot but two things are known: the riot was sparked by racial tensions between the black and Latino prisoners and the 5,900 inmates are housed in a facility that was built only to accommodate 3,000.
Authorities attribute the violence to California's prison system complying with a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that disallows the automatic segregation of new prisoners by race. It was a practice that was routine for more than 25 years and spawned its own set of problems.
In a 2005 interview with LA rapper Kam, he explains how the segregation worked:
LA rapper Kam noted that he spends a lot of time working to heal any rifts which he says starts from the racial segregation and 'divide and conquer' techniques used in the California prisons. He noted that this tactic has now spilled out onto the streets and is starting to impact everyday folks buy into these rumors of conflict.
For those who don't know, in the Cali penal system, inmates are separated by race, ethnicity and gang affiliation. Because the Latino population is so large (almost a third of the state is Latino), prison officials separate Northern and Southern Cali Mexicans.
Within the prisons gangs have formed and alliances made with Northern Mexicans known as Nortenos hooking up with Black inmates and the Southern Mexicans known as Surenos aligning themselves with the White Arayan Brotherhood. The initial split with Northern and Southern Mexicans is something that many feel was a well orchestrated 'divide and conquer' plan politicos that went into effect years ago to stem any sort of large Brown block holding and yielding social and political power.
Officials feel that by moving prisoners out of overcrowded jails and not segregating them by race, they will avoid this confrontation but not likely, especially if there are inmates who have been in the penal system for a while.
Santa Monica School Board member Oscar de la Torre, attributes the growing tension (in 2005) in large part to the release of inmates from prisons where black and Latino rivalries often erupt into racial violence.
"There's racial wars going on behind prison walls," said de la Torre, who is executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, which caters to at-risk youth. "There's no accountability, and now we have a spillover into our communities and our schools.
"Because there are so many blacks and Latinos incarcerated, you start talking in the family about it," de la Torre said. "The jail mentality has been becoming the mentality of youth in the community."
Prison culture, reflected in such films as Edward James Olmos' American Me, has also "built animosity between black and Latino gangs on the streets," de la Torre said.
For tensions to subside between the two groups, a host of reforms need to be implemented:
1. Stop overcrowding the jails
2. Create tolerance and self-help programs for inmates to attend
3. Overhaul those laws that put away people for non-violent, low-level crimes.
Unfortunately, the chance that any state could implement any of these changes is not high given the state of the economy.
So, in the meantime, black on brown tensions will continue to rise and cast a shadow over what progress has already been accomplished.