California Latino Gang is Latest Accused of Targeting Blacks

The Latino Azusa 13 gang conspired to rid a Southern California community of its black residents, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday. The indictment alleges that the gang engaged in a two-decades-long campaign involving intimidation, threats and violence to push black residents out of Azusa, a city of some 50,000 northeast of Los Angeles.

Authorities announced Tuesday that a federal grand jury had indicted 51 people allegedly associated with the Azusa 13 gang in what prosecutors described as actions “terrorizing” blacks. The 24-count indictment is just the latest in a string of prosecutions that have alleged Southern California Latino gangs were attacking blacks to push them out of their neighborhoods. It is also the latest manifestation of racial tensions between blacks and Latinos in Southern California.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said at a press conference held Tuesday that the Azusa 13 street gang began its campaign around 1992, after a meeting of its leaders in the city’s Pioneer Park. “The indictment alleges that nearly 20 years ago, the Azusa 13 adopted a racist principle to harass and use violence in an effort to drive African-Americans out of the city of Azusa,” Birotte said. According to the indictment, over those decades, black residents were confronted, beaten, and robbed.

Azusa Police Chief Robert Garcia said the gang scrawled racial epithets on black residents’ homes. He added that last year, the gang targeted a high school student walking home from a track meet. “He was African American,” said Garcia. “Some young Latinos saw him, chased him, and basically yelled racial epithets at him, and attacked him.”

This is not the first Latino gang to be accused of engaging in racially motivated attacks. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published a report in 2006 about The Avenues gang, which at that time was attacking black residents in Highland Park, also near L.A., allegedly on the orders of the Mexican Mafia, a major Latino prison and street gang. The SPLC found that, even though these gangs are fundamentally criminal enterprises interested mainly in money, gang experts inside and outside the government argued that they were involved in a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” — racial terror directed solely at African Americans.

In 2007, the callous murder of a 14-year-old African-American girl set off a political firestorm in the L.A. basin, prompting top city officials to acknowledge for the first time a frightening rise in anti-black racial killings by street gangs. Cheryl Green was playing on her skateboard with a group of friends when two men approached the group and began firing without uttering a word. Green was killed and three others were wounded. Two members of the Latino 204th Street gang were later arrested in the killing.

The campaign by Latino gangs against black residents has been a long one. A comprehensive study of hate crimes in Los Angeles County released by the University of Hawaii in 2000 concluded that while the vast majority of hate crimes nationwide are not committed by members of organized groups, Los Angeles County is a different story. Researchers found that in areas with high concentrations, or “clusters,” of hate crimes, the perpetrators were typically members of Latino street gangs who were purposely targeting blacks. Furthermore, the study found that “[t]here is strong evidence of race-bias hate crimes among gangs in which the major motive is not the defense of territorial boundaries against other gangs, but hatred toward a group defined by racial identification, regardless of any gang-related territorial threat.”

Other L.A. gangs who have engaged in the same tactics include Varrio Hawaiian Gardens and Florencia 13 in South L.A. Both are Latino gangs whose members have faced state or federal civil rights charges for attacking and killing African-Americans. All, reportedly including Azusa 13, had close ties to the Mexican Mafia, or La Eme, which is one of the oldest and most powerful prison gangs in the United States. The Mexican Mafia, which also is involved in criminal activity outside of prisons, imposes racial segregation inside them.