Ethnic Cleansing In South Central L.A.?
February 09, 2010, 12:30 PM
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One of the more controversial LA area questions over the last decade was whether or not Latino and black gangs were fighting a low-level ethnic cleansing struggle in the mixed ethnicity slums, as blacks often alleged. Civic leaders, such as LAPD chief William Bratton vociferously denied it, as well they might considering potential repercussions.

Slowly, the story is coming out in court cases. My guess is that the answer will turn out to be: Yes, but only in certain times and places, often depending upon the whim of local gang leaders.

From the LA Times' ace crime reporter Sam Quinones:

Six Florencia 13 gang members sentenced to life in prison Court action may close the door on a rampage that began in 2004 and evolved into what some residents saw as a race war.

The sentencing of six Florencia 13 gang members to life in prison appears to bring to a close a prolonged and terrifying spate of violence in the Florence-Firestone district allegedly brought on by orders from a prison gang member in solitary confinement 700 miles away.

Beginning in 2004, the unincorporated Los Angeles County area north of Watts [unincorporated parts of LA County are patrolled by LA Sheriffs rather than LAPD] was the site of one of the region's worst gang sieges since the early 1990s, evolving into what some residents felt was a race war.

The violence left dozens of people dead, including many with no gang affiliation, and required enormous county resources to combat. ...

U.S. District Judge David Carter sentenced Florencia member Francisco Flores, 24, to life in prison on Wednesday, saying that he "preyed on victims because they were black and for no other reason," according to a U.S. attorney's office news release. ..

Their trial, which took place in federal court in Santa Ana in 2008, grew from an indictment of 104 Florencia gang members on charges that included racketeering, conspiracy to sell drugs and murder.

Of those indicted, 94 have pleaded guilty or have been convicted. Four more await trial; two have died and four are fugitives.

The case showed the remarkable power the Mexican Mafia prison gang holds over Southern California Latino street gangs. Prosecutors alleged that Mexican Mafia member Arturo "Tablas" Castellanos essentially created a crime wave in the Florence-Firestone district.

Castellanos was not indicted because he is already serving a life prison term in a maximum security cell in Pelican Bay State Prison. He hasn't been on the streets since 1979.

Yet he wrote letters, introduced as evidence at the trial, that presumed to control a street gang, most of whose members had never seen him.

Castellanos ordered gang members to stop rampant infighting; to tax drug dealers in their neighborhoods, as well as prostitutes, fruit vendors and vendors of phony ID cards in nearby Huntington Park; and to funnel the proceeds to him and other mafia members. He also ordered the gang to attack the local Crips gang, whose members are black.

"The Mexican Mafia has a powerful grasp on these [Latino] gangs," said Peter Hernandez, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.

"The prison system is a segregated place. Those rules and letters from Castellanos attempted to adhere those prison rules to the street," he said.

As Castellanos' letters appeared on the street in the fall and winter of 2004, Florencia 13 erupted in a spate of violence against African Americans.

"They just went out and started shooting" at black people, Hernandez said.

East Coast Crips responded with shootings of their own, often targeting Latinos who were not gang members.

Few actual gang members died. Instead, residents said, they lived amid a race war.

Tapped cellular phone calls introduced as evidence at the trial tracked Florencia members driving the streets looking for people to shoot.

Black men, in particular, reported not walking to the store for groceries or riding bikes.

Florence-Firestone, with a population of 60,000, had 43 homicides in 2005.

In contrast, there have only been three homicides in Florence-Firestone neighborhood over the last seven months, so the situation there is much improved.

And here's Quinones's latest, on the testimony of a different Mexican Mafia leader, one who must have watched The Godfather trilogy a lot. I bet he identified with Al Pacino's character:

Real tried to break from his family and go straight, even receiving First Communion alone at 17, he said. But, "every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.