Long Beach Awaits Hate-Crime Verdict

Melissa Block talks with Tracy Manzer, crime reporter for the Long Beach Press Telegram, about the trial of 10 young people charged with assaulting three girls on Halloween night in 2006. Eight of the defendants, who are black, are also being charged with hate crimes against the victims, who are white.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Race and violence have also come together as we mentioned in Long Beach, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles. A judge there is expected to rule tomorrow in the case of a mob beating of three young women on Halloween Night last year. The victims are all white. They were attacked by a group of black teenagers, ten of whom are now facing charges of felony assault. Eight are charged with a hate crime.

Reporter Tracy Manzer is covering the case for the Long Beach Press Telegram. And Tracy, tell us, please, what happened the night of the attack.

TRACY MANZER: The one that's not disputed is the bones of what happened in the attack. There were three young white women who had gone to a neighborhood in the Bixby Knolls area. It's a fairly affluent area in Long Beach. And an exchange started with a group of black teens, and as the exchange grew more heated, more kids came into the group. There were hundreds of people in the neighborhood, a lot of them kids trick or treating that night.

It started with taunting, with words. It grew progressively from that to throwing items, throwing fruit, throwing pumpkins. And then from there, there was a racial slur with profanity about hating white people, and the crowd surged forward and sort of convened on these three girls, separated them with groups of kids around each girl, and physically beat them down with their fists, their feet.

One boy had a skateboard and knocked one victim out cold by slamming her in the back of the head with the skateboard. Tree branches were used. Various things were used.

BLOCK: And the three young women who were attacked, what's the nature of their injuries?

MANZER: The most seriously hurt was probably Lauren, and she's 21 and she - her nose is broken, her jaw was broken. She has to have surgery now. They're going to take metal plates to rebuild one side of her face. Her left eye is recessed because of all the fractures in the eye socket around the eye have weakened it. And that, believe it or not, was done with fists and feet.

Probably the second most seriously injured was her friend Laura, who's 19. Laura is the one that was knocked out with the skateboard. She suffered a serious concussion and is still having problems with slurred speech, blurred vision, dizzy spells. So she has a neurologist and a neurosurgeon trying to figure out, okay, how do we deal with this?

The third victim, who's Michelle, she's 19. She was seriously hurt as well, but she's probably in the best shape out of the three.

BLOCK: And it was that - the statements about hating white people - those were the bases of the hate crime charge?

MANZER: Yeah, that was the DA's explanation for the hate crime charge was that really that statement was what triggered the violence that followed.

BLOCK: The defense in this case, I gather, is arguing that the wrong people are on trial here.

MANZER: Yes. They've forwarded a couple of arguments, but the main one and easiest one is to establish doubt, which is all they have to do against the people's case, is how can you say, when you have a mob beating that was so chaotic, at 9:00 at night, it's dark out - how can you say for sure that these 10 kids were the ones that did what you claim they did?

BLOCK: This case has split the community in Long Beach. Tell us a bit about the reaction there.

MANZER: It's interesting because Long Beach prides itself - it's as an extremely diverse community. The U.S. census named it the most diverse city in the nation a few years ago. And it's something that the city takes a lot of pride in. At the same time, the city has acknowledged at times that with that diversity, you have some difficulties. You have a lot of different people, different backgrounds, different cultures. And they have to sort of adjust to one another's beliefs and ways of life.

And what this case has done is it's highlighted some of those difficulties. And it seems like it's really touched a nerve with a lot of people. It's a subject they have a hard time talking about and so, you know, kind of separating out now the emotions from let's look at what the problem is and deal with it. That's been hard for people to do.

BLOCK: We mentioned the judges are expected to rule tomorrow. Is there a lot of nervousness there now about reaction when that verdict comes in?

MANZER: Oh, definitely. The chief of police, city officials, several people for quite sometime now have been saying that they're concerned about what reactions in the community might be. My sources within the police department have told me that they had no intelligence that shows that there's going to be riots. That there's going to be any kind of civil unrest, but there are concerns that there are people that could be very upset by the verdicts. And so they're sort of doing the hope for the best, plan for the worst.

BLOCK: Tracy Manzer is a crime reporter for the Long Beach Press Telegram. Tracy, thanks very much.

MANZER: No problem.

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