Exploring Race-Based Gang Violence in L.A.

A rash of racially motivated gang violence has Los Angeles on edge. NPR's Michel Martin talks with two former gang members: Quentin Moore, who is black, and Gustavo Mojica, who is Latino.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Michel Martin. Farai Chideya is on vacation.

(Soundbite of music)

All week, NPR News has been looking at how Americans are facing the divisions in American life of race, class, income and politics in a special series, Crossing the Divide. Today, NEWS & NOTES concludes our programming with a look at relations between Latinos and blacks.

We start in Los Angeles, where gang violence has claimed too many lives over the years. But in recent months, authorities worry that the violence is increasingly motivated by racial hatred, most recently in the case of a 14-year-old girl who was apparently shot just because she was black.

I sat down with two former gang members - Quentin Moore, who is black, and Gustavo Mojica, who is Latino - to ask them what they think is sparking the violence. We start with Gus.

Mr. GUSTAVO MOJICA (Counselor, Homeway Industries): I got out of jail July 17 of 2000. I got shot July 22nd of 2000. I lost my right leg and was in a coma for two weeks. And after that, that's it.

MARTIN: That's not your real leg?

Mr. MOJICA: No.

MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry.

Mr. MOJICA: It's all right. And now I almost died for something I don't even know and, you know, I don't gangbang no more. I'm a happily married man, family man.

MARTIN: I hear you. Appreciate that. What I'm trying to understand is this recent situation involving these killings of Latinos killing blacks and the blacks killing Latinos. And for a lot of people, they don't understand how you could kill a toddler because he's Latino and how you could kill a 14-year-old girl because she's black.

Mr. MOJICA: We don't even understand. It's just something that - there are some people that are prejudiced, are racist, I mean. But I don't know how they could that. You know, would I do the same thing? (Unintelligible) and like in everything. But, you know, I don't know how it is. Quentin is a great man, he's a great guy, you know, like that (unintelligible).

MARTIN: What about you, Quentin, do you have any thoughts about this?

Mr. QUENTIN MOORE (Counselor, Homeway Industries): I mean, I grew up with Latinos. So of them are like black Latinos, you know what I'm saying? My best friends, you know what I'm saying, some of the Latinos that I knew was from my hood. So, you know, it's really like mind boggling how, you know, whether he is a black or Latino, how they would kill little kids and, you know. And things like that, you know, doing something random that would, you know, hurt somebody else.

MARTIN: Is this whole black-Latino confrontation piece new to you?

Mr. MOORE: It's very new to me. And, you know, from my perspective of seeing it, it's more to me like a political strategy to hide, you know, what they're doing behind politics. Because, you know, as I watched it, it seemed like when the new mayor's about to get into office or a new president is about to come into office, you know, all of a sudden, you know, this racial tension between blacks and browns.

But when you go in, like, South Central and in different neighborhoods, you very rarely see that. You know, at the time where I was coming up, when I was younger, it was always blacks against blacks.

MARTIN: Do you feel somehow that this recent violence has some, what, outside motivation or some sort of outside agitation? Somebody's stirring it up?

Mr. MOORE: I definitely feel that somebody is stirring it up. Latinos eat beans like blacks eat beans. We both eat the same thing. You know what I'm saying?

MARTIN: OK. But the gangs aren't mixed.

Mr. MOORE: Our gangs are mixed. You know, in a black gang you may have Latinos in the black gang.

MARTIN: Is that true?

Mr. MOJICA: Yeah. Some black gang - some Latinos are in the black gang.

Mr. MOORE: And, you know, in some Latino gangs that, you know what I'm saying? That, you know, I ran into some blacks from Latino gangs.

MARTIN: So what do you think about these conflicts that are going on right now? Do you think it's about race or ethnicity or identity? Or do you think it's really more about territory? Geography? Location?

Mr. MOJICA: I think it's more about territory.

MARTIN: How does it start where somebody's shooting a random person to retaliate for something that happened two weeks ago?

Mr. MOJICA: I kind of look at it from a perspective of blacks - gangs retaliating on each other. And it's because somebody did something to somebody else.

Mr. MOORE: I still look at the way the media makes it looks like you know what I'm saying? OK, blacks, we hate Latinos. And it hasn't ever been like that, you know what I'm saying? Or, Latinos hate blacks.

MARTIN: If you have a chance to talk to whoever - the media, the politicians, the people who now say they want to help out in the situation - about what would improve things based on your experience, your friendship with each other and your past lives, what would you tell them? Gus.

Mr. MOJICA: We need more proper innovation(ph) like this one. More after school programs. Because, you know, they be lying to get into office, they be lying to go on to do this, do that. They never do it.

Mr. MOORE: Like he was saying earlier, you know, we got different gang members, different cultures, different races that's working side by side and we making it happen. But what are you going to do? Are you just going to talk? Don't talk to us about nothing. Do it.

Mr. MOJICA: Do it.

MARTIN: That was Quentin Moore and Gus Mojica, both former gang members. I spoke with them at the offices of Homeboy Industries, a non-profit organization in East Los Angeles that helps move young people out of gang life. Both are counselors there.

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