Race and Identity

Black on Brown

Today's segment on California moving forward with a 2005 consent decree calling for prisons to be desegregated, touches distantly on the ever-sticky issue of black and brown relations in the country's biggest state. Away from the balkanized warfare in the state's cell blocks, where blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos from northern and southern Cali fight over precious square feet of concrete (and associated drug profits), shifting demographics have transformed the political relationship between so-called minority groups. Whether we're talking about the myth of Obama's "Latino Problem," or fears of a black v. brown homicide spike in LA over the last few years, the mental image of ethnic conflict now revolves around brown-on-black conflict, rather than the traditional specter of white-on-brown/black racism.

Although a recent report by the LA County's Human Relations Commission found that hate crimes in the region were at a 5-year high, with crimes against blacks outstripping those committed against Latinos by almost 3-to-1 (310-125), most indicators don't show a significant uptick in racially motivated violence between black and Latinos. The Los Angeles Times' essential blog on murder and murder victims in LA — The Homicide Report — answered the question fairly directly a year ago:

Are Black-vs.-Brown Racial Tensions Driving Homicide in L.A.?

No. A few high-profile cases, including the suspected racially motivated killing of 14-year-old Cheryl Green in LAPD's Harbor Division, have fueled speculation of rising racial conflict in L.A. But among detectives and police officers who deal daily with homicides, the prevailing view is that the race problem—for now, anyway—remains marginal. "I don't think it's there," says Watts homicide Det. Chris Barling. Det. John Radtke, a South-Central homicide investigator, agrees. "We don't see it happening," he says. Statistics back them up.

Take the four most violent Los Angeles police precincts—Newton, 77th Street, Southwest and Southeast.

These racially mixed divisions cover South-Central Los Angeles and surrounding areas and consistently rank highest in homicides among the 19 LAPD precincts. Last year they accounted for nearly half of all the murders in the city.

But out of a total of 236 homicides in these four divisions last year, just 22 involved Latinos killing blacks, or blacks killing Latinos.

The vast majority—nearly 90%—involved suspects and victims of the same race.[full item]

Most indications are that, a year later, blacks and Latinos are still more likely to kill members of their own groups than each other. But away from the statistics, the perception of increased conflict lingers. What say you? Is inter-ethnic conflict on the rise in California? And what about the decision to desegregate the prisons? Do you think this will reduce or increase violence?

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