Skip to main content

Reply to "People of Color' are All One? Latino Inmates in L.A. Don't Think So"

Racial Violence Behind Bars - Time For Straight Talk Between the Black and Latino Communities
By Anthony Asadullah Samad

The violence that has taken place between Black and Latino inmates in the Los Angeles (and now Riverside and San Bernadino) County Jails has caused both the black and Latino communities to take inventory of their relationship. Future relations will require candor, honesty and some historical reflection that has allowed them to peacefully co-exist for 500 years.

Black community leaders (most politicians and mega-church leaders, as well as half of the black civil rights organizations) have been nowhere in sight as the community has expressed its outrage over the mistreatment and what seems to be the purposeful isolation of black inmates among disproportionate groups of Latino inmates that have resulted in attacks on (and the death of two) Blacks behind bars. Most distressing is the overwhelming silence on the part of Latino leadership that has made many wonder aloud who controls the Latino community.

Both communities are looking at each other in bewilderment as distrust runs abound. One thing that neither community has done is really address the causes of this conflict (beyond blaming the Sheriff's Dept.-who does have some culpability in setting up some of the conflict, but is not the true source). We've only looked at the effects of what circumstances had caused. It's time both communities have a little straight talk-not about what is right but about what is true and just.

The black community first. We have to be honest about why black inmates are being attacked, and yes, it's racial. It's not about gangs moving from the streets into the jails. So-called gangs have moved in and out of jails for several decades now. And yes, overcrowding is a contributing factor. Disparate treatment by the Sheriff's Dept. is another contributing factor (that black leadership should be all over), but the principle factor is an event that should have shocked us all and a united call for justice. Has it occurred to anybody that the race riots increased significantly since the January 29th shooting of Elio Carrion by San Bernardino Sheriff's deputy, Ivory J. Webb. Once the video-taped shooting of an unarmed Air Force senior airman made its rounds on national television, the jail riots began. This is also when the Mexican Mafia allegedly "greenlighted" the attacks on black inmates.

The black community has asked why the Latino community has not spoken out on the attacks, or against the Mexican Mafia, for giving the go (if that's actually what has happened). But the black community has not led the call for Webb to be prosecuted by the San Bernardino District Attorney's Office. We are a community that knows what it's like to be racially attacked and afflicted by the larger community and not have anyone speak out. That's our history here in America and our constant complaint against so-called "right-minded" Whites that allow racism to persist in its colorblind context. Yet, it's happened to our Latino brothers and sisters, and we're silent, and several in the Latino community (including some of my students at East Los Angeles College) have asked when the black community is going to speak out on the San Bernardino shooting of a Latino citizen by a Black cop. It hasn't happened.

Now the Latino community. We have to be honest about this whole Latino empowerment trip that some in the community has waged as a "takeover" campaign based on population shifts. It's interesting that these "pro-Latino" proponents are not aggressing on Whites or Asians in the same way that they are aggressing on African Americans, even as Blacks have played a role in advancing this empowerment agenda with the election of Antonio Villaraigosa, among others. We understand that Blacks and Latinos are in direct competition for entry, middle level and even senior level jobs in a marketplace where job growth is not keeping up with population growth. It's also not lost that both communities are plagued with gang violence, but the one thing that black leaders have done is to be ardent opponents of gang violence and some of the most vocal in calling for "O.G.s" to intercede on street level and jail level conflict.

Black community activists have been among the most vocal in police attacks against Latinos, including Rampart Scandal and the baby Pina shooting. Black grassroots was among the most vocal in calling for the firing and jailing of bad black cops Rafeal Perez and David Mack, as well as the Latino LAPD officer that shot Devin Brown. The Latino leadership (except for State Senator, Gloria Romero) has been extremely closed lipped. This includes Latino clergy. Those who claim they want justice, must pursue justice in all its realms and not be influenced by "the color of injustice." Dr. King said that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This could never be more true than in this instance. If Blacks want justice behind bars, we have to call for justice in the streets, and if Latinos want justice for Elio Carrion in the streets, they have to call for justice behind bars.

For the racial jail violence to stop, the black community, including black leadership, must march on San Bernardino (as it has marched on Riverside, Claremont and Lancaster) and call on the District Attorney's Office, who has investigated some 120 officer involved shooting in San Bernardino County-and has never charged an officer-to charge Ivory Webb with attempted murder under the collar of authority, so due process can take its course and the truth about what really happened can be known. And the Latino community, including Latino leadership, is going to have to call a halt-via the Mexican mafia or otherwise-to the attacks of black inmates in the county jails. Both communities must put what is just before what they think is right. Rightness is relative (and some even think revenge is right). We must understand that what some of us think right isn't always just. But what is just is always right. If we can stand a little straight talk, justice must prevail in both communities, and we must help each other get justice in each other's cause.

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America (Kabili Press, 2005). He can be reached at