Black vs. Latino Riots Put L.A. Jails in Lockdown
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
There was more racial rioting last night in the massive Los Angeles County jail system. Once again, black and Latino inmates battled each other in spite of the heavy security measures in place. During a week of riots, one inmate has died and many more have been injured.
And as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, authorities still haven't found a way to end the violence.
INA JAFFE reporting:
Yesterday they tried faith. In the morning dozens of ministers toured jails in the North County correctional facility, 40 miles north of downtown L.A., trailed by members of the media. The idea was to visit with prisoners in their dormitories, hopefully calm things down. But that didn't seem likely, listening to this one unidentified Latino inmate vent his feelings towards blacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN (Inmate): You know, when they're around, you know, they're always loud. They're dirty. They don't take showers. And we have rules, you know. We know we're above them. And we know we're better than them.
JAFFE: Latinos outnumber black prisoners two to one, but both groups have asked to be segregated. Right now, they're getting their wish, as the Sheriff's Department attempts to cool the situation. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca believes that it's Latino prisoners, and their gang contacts on the outside, that are instigating the fights.
Sherriff LEE BACA (L.A. County): People from the outside are shot calling to the inside, to Latinos, to start racial disturbances. And if you only have one or two of these people in a module, and they start fighting with each other, then the racial affiliation code requires all blacks to line up on the side of blacks, and all Latinos to line up on the side of Latinos. And that's what gets this going.
Ms. LIDA HERRON(ph) (Community Leader, South Los Angeles): Good morning, afternoon. Thank you for coming.
JAFFE: Lida Herron was one of several African-American community leaders who called the media, to the backroom of a south Los Angeles coffee house, to talk about what they termed an emergency in the county jails.
Ms. HERRON: We represent the mothers of the murdered children and the mothers of the kids that are incarcerated. We want our children that are locked up to come back in the same physical form they wore when they went in.
JAFFE: And racial segregation is not the answer, said Earl Ofari Hutchinson who runs the weekly urban policy forum.
Mr. EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON (Host, Urban Policy Roundtable): We've had, since 1990, dozens and dozens of outbreaks at L.A. County Jails. And every time I keep hearing the same thing, we'll segregate them and that will make the problem go away. It doesn't make the problem go away, it just makes the problem worse.
JAFFE: The Sheriff's Department is not just separating prisoners by ethnicity. They're now also trying to separate the most dangerous inmates from the rest of the jail population. The most violent ones will be sent to a downtown facility known as the Twin Towers. It's a maximum-security jail with locked cells, not the dormitories that house prisoners in most of the county jails.
Merrick Bobb monitors the Sheriff's Department for the county Board of Supervisors.
Mr. MERRICK BOBB (Special Counsel to Board of Supervisors): Taking your real high risk inmates, your real violent inmates, some of them are the shot callers within the jails, put them in hard locked cells. And that, I think, will take away a particularly difficult group of inmates to manage. And that will help
JAFFE: Up to a point, anyway. Prisoners in the county jails are a harder bunch than they use to be. According to Merrick Bobb, about 70 percent are either awaiting trial on felony charges, or have been convicted of felonies and are awaiting transfer to state prisons. Seventy-five percent are affiliated with various gangs at war with each other. In the county jails this week it became clear that the prison walls are not a barrier between the violence on the street and the violence behind bars.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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