Healing the Black-Brown Divide

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African American and Latino Communities Must Unite.

Traditional allies and friends in a common struggle for equal opportunity, the African American and Latino communities of Los Angeles have grown apart in recent years. Where once blacks and browns stood shoulder to shoulder in the decades-long fight to correct the social injustices they both faced and improve conditions for the oppressed among their peoples—with Cesar Chavez’s efforts to improve the lives of migrant farm workers drawing much inspiration and example from Martin Luther King’s nonviolent struggle on behalf of black Americans—the headlines today too often tell a different story.

Last winter, LA County jails exploded in deadly battles between brown and black gang members, forcing prolonged lockdowns. Racially motivated shootings closed area freeways earlier this year. Fights sometimes involving more than 100 high school students divided along racial lines regularly disrupt LA schools. Backlash by isolated black spokesmen against this past spring’s mammoth immigrant rights demonstrations further strained relations between the two communities. In our own neighborhood, members of the decades-old Latino “Avenues Gang” were recently convicted of harassing and killing blacks as part of a coordinated effort over several years to drive them from Highland Park, a community in northeast Los Angeles.

What to do?
To stem that growing divide, a task force of clergy, law enforcement officers, and community leaders brought together by Sheriff Lee Baca will hold its fourth in a series of conferences at the University of Southern California’s Town & Gown Conference Center on Saturday, September 23rd, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Jointly led by Ed Turner of the Hope for Life Foundation and Manuel Tijerino of Unidos Por Jesucristo, the Sheriff’s Multi-Faith Clergy Council will host this gathering as part of an ongoing dialogue among community activists designed to address common problems facing both communities.

Building on earlier conferences where as many as 700 civic leaders documented a core set of issues plaguing both communities, the event will touch on such issues as low voter turn-out, high incarceration rates, discriminatory immigration policies, high unemployment, substandard education and high drop-out rates, absent health care, and worsening gang violence, attendees at the next conference will develop a detailed action plan, which they will make available to community leaders across LA County and beyond.

“But really the focus has to be on the shootings,” says Gerald Thompson of Pathways to Your Future who will take several former gang members from his facility in Inglewood to the summit, hoping both to bring a sense of reality to the proceedings and also encourage the young men on the new lives they are trying to develop. “If you’re not in these communities in South-Central and Inglewood and Compton, you don’t know how bad it is.” Indeed, a Sheriff’s chaplain at an event planning meeting reported making 38 calls to shooting scenes on one particularly grim weekend recently, all gang-related and at least some racially motivated.

A movement coming?
Said Turner at that planning session, “We need to sit down and come up with a plan that supports African Americans and Latinos.” Turner, who works for the Sheriff’s Department and is a bishop in his South-Central church, was a candidate for the 48th Assembly District in June’s Democratic Party primary. Beyond the action plan they will distribute, there is a sense among Turner and the others that they’re building a movement, one that involves agencies, organizations, and individuals of all stripes to address the problems facing the disadvantaged among us as they compete for ever scarcer jobs, housing, and educational opportunities.

This series of conferences is gaining widespread support from a broad cross section of LA County leaders, with attendance expected to exceed 900. Representatives, often chaplains, from a number of police and public service agencies form the planning group’s core, including the Los Angeles Police and Fire Departments, the Pasadena Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Compton Fire Department, the LA County Fire Department, and the FBI joining with the LA Sheriff’s Department. Another big contingent comes from churches, both Latino and African American, that serve these hard-hit communities. In the weeks leading up to the event, more immigrant rights and gang intervention groups are joining the fray.

Notably absent is the political community. Although John Garamendi, Christine Chavez, and John Chiang, among others, have appeared at earlier summits, no officeholder or candidate participates in the weekly planning meetings that often involve 30 or more at the Sheriff’s Department Headquarters in Monterey Park. That’s both perhaps symptom of a problem and also an opportunity for our own party’s leaders, as certainly the solution to black-brown hostilities in our community will not come solely form better policing and wider ministry.

Indeed, long-term solution will have to come from opportunities arising from better schools, adequate healthcare, and better jobs for all our brothers and sisters across Los Angeles County. For that, you need inspired, committed political leadership, which is what the Democratic Party is about, right?

For more information, contact Scottie Gray, Hope for Life Foundation, 323.753.467

Published by the LA Progressive on October 14, 2006
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About Dick and Sharon

As a husband and wife team, Sharon Kyle and Dick Price publish several print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. Sharon serves as Publisher for Dick & Sharon's LA Progressive and Dick serves as Editor.