Sunday, June 15, 2008
Baca sees major link with racial hatred, Bratton urges perspective. Los Angeles' two top lawmen are increasingly at odds over the extent to which gang violence is being fueled by racial hatred.
Police Chief William J. Bratton and his top deputies have long cautioned that race-motivated violence remains fairly rare and that gang feuds over turf and drugs are the leading causes of such violence. But over the last few months, Sheriff Lee Baca has publicly voiced a more ominous view of violence between Latino and black gangs. This week, he went further than ever, saying in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that "some of L.A.'s so-called gangs are really no more than loose-knit bands of blacks or Latinos roaming the streets looking for people of the other color to shoot."
Baca's comments have prompted debate in law enforcement circles -- with some Los Angeles Police Department officials questioning some of his assertions.
"The sheriff is saying we need to examine this issue in the light of day to keep it from spreading because we won't be able to address or reverse it, if we deny it," said civil rights attorney Connie Rice. "Chief Bratton is saying something equally valid, which is if you overemphasize race, you may be pouring jet fuel on the fire." Baca, in an interview Thursday, said he was speaking out because he considers racial animus among various gangs a serious problem that is not being discussed enough. He acknowledged that the Sheriff's Department doesn't have statistics showing a major rise in race-related violence but believes it is a growing problem. Baca this week announced that his department would create a Gang Emergency Operations Center to better deal with such violence.
"We need to talk about this in a more public way," Baca said, adding he had heard about the tension from community activists, beat cops, gang intervention officers and deputies who guard the county's jails. "It's a small percentage but a significant percentage." [Mark Godsey]