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Thousand Oaks Official's Remarks on Latinos, Gangs Stir Controversy


THOUSAND OAKS — Dismayed by a city councilman's public remarks linking Latino heritage and gang participation, leaders in Ventura County's Latino community Thursday called for sensitivity training for city officials "from the top down."

Councilman Michael Markey, who works as a Compton homicide detective, angered Latino officeholders and activists with comments that Latino gangs "have been around for 200 years" and are "inbred in the Latino families."

"It seems to me that people who are in law enforcement should have a much more enlightened perspective," said Oxnard City Councilman Andres Herrera. "It's a disservice that he does as a member of the City Council."

"This is the type of thing that causes more tension," said Francisco Dominguez, director of the Oxnard-based Latino advocacy group El Concilio. "You start making public comments like that, it just becomes reckless."

Although Markey stood by the bulk of what he told business owners at a Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday morning, he said that his comments were taken out of context and that he was misquoted.

Markey was quoted in editions of the Ventura County Star as telling the business leaders that "Latino gangs have been around for 200 years. So we're 200 years from trying to stop it, because that's inbred in the Latino families. They raise kids up to protect the barrio. That's their heritage, I think."

Markey, who was elected to the Thousand Oaks City Council in a special election June 6, disputes that he used the word "inbred."

"That isn't accurate," Markey said, adding that he is concerned people will think he is a racist. "I'm not, and that's why I'm upset about it."

But Thousand Oaks Star editor DeAnn Wahl Justesen said she stands by the newspaper's quotes from Markey.

"We have it on tape," Justesen said. "It's accurate."

Markey was responding to a question from businessman Jim Sumner, who asked him what police can do to eliminate gangs in the Conejo Valley area.

"What I was trying to explain is that gangs have been around so long that we can't ever eradicate them, we can just control them," Markey said. "What I was referring to was in Latino families, some do raise their families into the gangs culture, but not all."

Markey said he was speaking in "generalities," not specifically of the Conejo Valley or its Latino community.

"It makes it sound like I was talking about the Latino community in Thousand Oaks and I was not talking about that," he said.

Markey said that he has had cultural sensitivity training as part of his 18 years with the Compton Police Department. But some critics said he could use a refresher course.

Dominguez said he thinks El Concilio del Condado de Ventura will probably write a letter to the entire Thousand Oaks City Council about the matter, explaining "that we're disappointed and that they need to have some cultural sensitivity training from the top down."

Joining Sumner in defending Markey was Compton Mayor Omar Bradley, who called the detective an "exemplary person."

"He certainly is not a person who harbors any racist sentiment, and I can say that from having known him well," Bradley said. "Maybe what he meant to say is that certain gangs are generational. The father may be in a gang and the son may join the same gang. That's endemic with most gangs, not just Latinos."

Markey's boss, Compton Police Chief Hourie Taylor, said he had talked to the detective and believes Markey when he says he was misquoted.

If the quotes were indeed accurate, Taylor added, "I'd think what he said was inaccurate and inappropriate. It's certainly not the philosophy of this department or myself."

Times staff writer Joanna M. Miller and correspondent David R. Baker contributed to this story.

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