Latino Gang Targeted Blacks, U.S. Says
By TAMARA AUDI
LOS ANGELES—Members of a Latino gang affiliated with the Mexican Mafia conspired for nearly 20 years to drive African-Americans out of the Southern California city of Azusa through violence and intimidation, federal authorities alleged Tuesday.
Fifty-one alleged members of the Azusa 13 gang were indicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges; six were accused of conspiring to violate the civil rights of African-Americans. The case marks the second time federal civil-rights laws have been used against a gang, authorities said.
“The Azusa 13 gang waged a campaign of hate during a two-decade crime spree in which African-Americans were harassed and attacked,” U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in a written statement Tuesday. “We hope that this federal case will signal the end of this racist behavior and will help vindicate all of the victims who have suffered over the years.”
Thirty-nine of the defendants were in custody Tuesday. Authorities were still searching for 12 other suspects. Lawyers for some of the defendants couldn’t immediately be reached.
While racial tensions among gangs have long been a part of turf wars in Southern California, none of the victims of the Azusa gang’s alleged racial harassment were part of any rival gangs or criminal enterprise, authorities said. They were targeted simply because they were black, authorities said.
Prosecutors said the gang adopted a “racist principle” that, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday, members would “harass and use violence to drive African-Americans out of the city of Azusa.” According to the latest U.S. Census information, about 64% of the city’s 47,000 residents are Hispanic and nearly 4% are black.
The gang targeted African-Americans with robberies and beatings, and defaced their homes with graffiti using racial slurs, the indictment alleges. New gang members “would use attacks on African-Americans as a way of proving themselves as members of the gang and enhancing their position in the gang,” the indictment alleges.
As California cities have grappled with major gang problems, prosecutors have looked for new ways to shut down their activity, including injunctions preventing members from associating with one another and imposing curfews on alleged members.
Civil-rights laws were first used against a gang in 2006 and 2007, when four Latino members of the Avenues gang in Los Angeles were sentenced to life in prison without parole for their roles in the racially motivated murders of two African-American men.
Azusa, a working-class outpost tucked into the edge of the San Gabriel foothills, was once known as the “hate capital of the valley,” said Mayor Joseph Rocha, because of racial tensions between Latino and black residents. Those tensions were stoked by gang violence, he said.
But the city has made significant strides in the past decade, he said, with initiatives to bring black and Latino communities together. A major turning point came seven years ago, Mr. Rocha said, when a black Army private named LeRoy Harris-Kelly III was killed serving in Iraq, becoming the first city resident killed in that war. At a city-organized ceremony, hundreds of children presented his parents with flowers. Grief, Mr. Rocha said, “joined the community together.”
Mr. Rocha said he was surprised by the indictments. “Azusa has moved on. We are a peaceful place now,” he said.
This issue was first revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2008.