Is Violence Between Blacks and Latinos on the Rise?

Is the racially motivated violence in Los Angeles isolated or part of a much larger trend? NPR's Michel Martin talks with leading black and Latino policymakers: Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, and Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Clearly the situation in Los Angeles is complicated. L.A. has a long history of gang violence and also a rich culture of diversity. But what about the rest of the country?

To talk about that, we are joined by Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. And we're also joined by Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, a leading civil rights and advocacy organization for African-Americans. Welcome, both of you, and thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. MARC MORIAL (President and CEO, National Urban League): Good to see - good to talk to you.

Ms. JANET MURGUIA (President, National Council of La Raza): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Now I know it's hard to generalize. But setting the violence aside, do you think the situation here in Los Angeles is typical of black-Latino relations or unusual? And Janet Murguia, why don't you start.

Ms. MCGEE: Well, I think it's - what we're seeing is that there is more and more of these issues emerging. And I think that we're seeing that the tensions are real. But yet it's more difficult, it seems, to find venues like Homeboy Industries and other non-profits that can have the funding to fully support efforts to bring these communities, especially the youth of these communities, together.

And I think that that's an important, real important part of the solution is to have these venues where at a younger age we can see young blacks and Latinos having the chance to come together and have that better understanding. So, I do think that the tensions are real and that they're growing.

MARTIN: Mark Morial?

Mr. MORIAL: I think these tensions are sort of an early warning signal that the nation has a series of challenges in the 21st century that we haven't prepared ourselves to deal with.

I think Janet is right that among young people so much more has to be done, because many times black and Latino youth share many of the same circumstances - schools that are not doing the best job, neighborhoods where opportunities are limited, a whole host of similar problems. And I think that it goes beyond simply territory or race. I think it also touches on economics and educational disparity.

So this is an early warning signal because so many of the communities across the nation have a growing Latino population side by side with historic African-American populations and communities. I'm in Newark today, and a growing Latino community here and certainly historic African-American community. And together, they are a majority of this city.

So I think we're dealing with the early warning sign, which means we have to redouble our efforts…

MARTIN: Mr. Morial, if I could ask, we have only a couple of minutes to talk about this very rich topic, so I wanted to say what - speaking of the fact that Latinos are growing in numbers in this country, and what do you say to Latinos who know that they are now the largest minority group in the U.S. and that they need and want recognition, policy recognition commensurate with their national presence. What do you say?

Mr. MORIAL: I say right on. I think that it is important in the richness of a nation that they are afforded that respect. But I also think that we have to not shy away from the difficult issues of the fact that the economic conditions in many communities, the educational systems in many communities, are not serving African-Americans or Latinos well…

CHIDEYA: Miss - Janet Murguia, why don't you pick up on that point. Do you say…

Ms. MURGUIA: Sure, well -

MARTIN: Wait. Hold on a second. What do you say to African-Americans who say that illegal immigrants are depressing the wages of legal black workers who are already feeling that they are discriminated against? And even that the language Latino leaders sometimes use, emphasizing that they are the largest minority group sort of sends a message: Blacks, get out of the way. What do you say to that?

Ms. MURGUIA: Yeah, there's two things. One on the immigrant issue, I say let's make sure we identify the issues that can protect the interest of all workers and make sure that we use this as a catalyst for that. And then on the other issue, I think you're right, Michel, in that there are ways to characterize the growth of the Latino community that sometimes end up creating a wedge and creating more divisions.

And we have to resist that because I think instead of saying that Latino communities are growing, people say that now we're the largest majority - minority population, which is true. But sometimes the way it's presented, it's presented as a way that that should be a threat to African-Americans or anyone else. And we need to make sure that this is framed in a way where we clearly identify the fact that now we have two large segments - the African-American community, the Hispanic community - that have more issues now that unite us than divide us, and focus our attention on addressing those issues and leveraging the strength of both of those communities to address those issues.

MARTIN: We often hear, and we're down to our last minute or so, but we often hear leader like yourselves speaking in this way about the black and brown alliance and they need to come together around common challenges. But do you think that these - there are racist attitudes on the ground, perhaps, in both communities that need to be addressed?

For example, in Los Angeles, federal authorities convicted four Latino gang members of engaging a conspiracy to drive blacks out of their neighborhood. In fact, they were trying to ethnically cleanse the neighborhood. So do you think there are racist attitudes that need to be addressed? And Janet and Mark, could you pick up very briefly?

Ms. MURGUIA: Yes. I do think that there are issues at the local level. And you're right. Oftentimes, some of the conversations and the reaching out that's occurred among the black and brown communities happens more at the national level.

And we need to make sure that we're building in more opportunities for that understanding at the local level, at the grassroots level, because what we're finding is that these communities are being more integrated. We're seeing more blacks and Latinos living together, but at the same time they're not talking to each other and we don't have these programs that create…

MARTIN: I'm sorry…

Ms. MURGUIA: venues for them to be able to connect.

MARTIN: Janet Murguia, forgive me. Marc Morial, forgive me. We have to leave it there.

Mr. MORIAL: Yeah, I…

CHIDEYA: I'm sorry. We have to leave there. Janet Murguia is president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League. Thank you both.

Mr. MORIAL: Thanks for having us.

Ms. MURGUIA: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Just ahead, a persistence for justice. In a special Roundtable we meet a man who wouldn't let his brother's memory die, and it's paying off.

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