By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, syndicated columnist, political analyst and commentator. He has been a guest on the Today Show, Dateline, The Lehrer Hour, and BET News, America’s Black Forum. He is a frequent commentator for the American Urban Broadcast Network and Ed Gordon’s News and Notes on NPR. He is a featured columnist for BlackNews.com, BlackAmericaWeb.com, and Alternet.org. He is associate editor of New America Media.
In addition to his many accomplishments, Hutchinson is the author of the new book: The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation Between African-Americans and Hispanics.
The book examines the hot button issues and problems that conflict and unite blacks and Latinos. It looks at how both groups interpret and see those issues and problems through the prism of their experiences. The book will be published jointly in Spanish and English.
Even before the shocking killings in Newark, New Jersey of three black students allegedly by Latino illegal immigrants Latino-on-black and black-on-Latino violence took two other appalling forms.
In 2005, 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.
Was the motive for the attacks simply robbery? Or were they racially motivated as well?
No matter what the motive, many Hispanics fervently believed that they were under siege from the blacks because they were Hispanic and immigrants. This reinforced the old racial stereotypes about blacks.
A relative of one of those attacked in Jacksonville pulled no punches: “The vast majority of morenos (blacks) are hard workers, but the rest of them want to live for free.” He painted blacks with the broad brush of stereotypes; that should be condemned.
Yet it’s hard for anyone to be objective when a loved one has been killed or injured when they perceive the attack to have been racially motivated.
Though the robberies, beatings and killings by blacks of Latinos in those cities were shocking, Los Angeles continued to dominate the headlines when it came to black and Latino violence. Four months before black teen Cheryl Green was murdered in December 2006 allegedly by Latino gang members, five Latino members of the Avenues gang were convicted on federal hate crime charges and were slapped with life sentences.
The U.S. Attorney tagged their crimes as a deadly effort to engage in “ethnic cleansing” during a four-year period that began in the late 1990s. The gang members launched their reign of terror to drive blacks out of the neighborhood. Two young blacks were killed in the violence.
In the next couple of years, according to Los Angeles police reports, there were more than a dozen murder attempts in other parts of Los Angeles by alleged Latino gang members on mostly young blacks that had had 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. 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. The other is that hate crimes were increasingly being committed by blacks and Latinos against each other.
In the immediate preceding years before the Green killing, black and Latino hate violence against each other was rare. University of California, Irvine researchers found that of the 500 murders in South Los Angeles between 1999 and 2004, almost all of them were Latino-on-Latino, or black-on-black.
Most residents in mixed black and Latino neighborhoods lived and got along in relative peace. But the increase in black and Latino hate crimes tragically showed that could be changing. This represents another colossal challenge to black and Latino leaders to find ways to stem the violence.
This is in part based on a chapter from Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s forthcoming The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation Between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press, 2007)