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Street violence and Special Order 40

Many blacks believe they suffer because of illegal immigration.

April 15, 2008|Earl Ofari Hutchinson | Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House."

When Jamiel Shaw Sr. stood up last week to call for a change in Special Order 40, it touched an already raw nerve in the black community. Shaw's son, 17-year-old star football player Jamiel Shaw II, was gunned down within shouting distance of his house. The suspect, 19-year-old Pedro Espinoza, is an alleged gang member and an illegal immigrant. Special Order 40 has prevented law enforcement from probing the immigration status of some suspects and deporting criminals with dispatch. Even if Special Order 40 were modified, there's no guarantee that Jamiel would still be alive, but to a community convinced that Latino-on-black racial violence is on the upswing, it's still a matter of simple justice.

And that's true despite the statistics Police Chief William Bratton (seconded by the Los Angeles Times) piled on the public table in recent weeks, numbers that back up the claim that, with the exception of young Shaw and a handful of other cases, the majority of the killings of blacks are by other blacks, not Latinos. That won't ease black fears that some Latino gangs are bent on wiping them out.

This is not racial paranoia run amok. There's too much bad and violent racial history behind their fears. In years past, African Americans have been lynched, shot, beaten and mobbed solely because of race. The memory of that violence is still too fresh for it to be casually dismissed.

It makes no difference whether the perpetrators are Klan or Aryan Nation gangsters or Latino gang bangers. It certainly makes no difference that so few blacks are killed by non-blacks. In the South at the height of Jim Crow mob violence, only a tiny number of blacks were physically assaulted by white mobs. The overwhelming majority of blacks who were killed were murdered by other blacks. But then, as now, no matter how infrequent the killings of blacks by others, hate attacks stir fear, rage and panic, and they deepen racial divisions.

This is part of the reason Bratton got slammed in recent weeks; he was reflexively and too defensively digging in his heels and dismissing talk of a racial motive in any of the shootings as inflammatory. The other reason he got slammed is the underlying fear of many blacks that illegal immigration is way out of control and that they are bearing the brunt of that legal laxity.

Bratton, at a public meeting April 6, wisely got the drift and backed off on his position on the crime statistics. He admitted that "just the facts" hasn't worked. It remains to be seen what L.A. will do about Special Order 40.

In the wake of Shaw's plea, the City Council is considering an amendment that would make it easier for the police to check a suspected gangster's immigration status. According to the LAPD, the order already makes that possible to some degree, but to make it easier may be almost impossible because there is no mechanism that allows all officers to quickly put that information together.

On top of that, although Shaw took special care when he implored the council to change the order to say that he "did not want to target Latinos," the hard reality is that those who are most likely to be stopped in gang crime investigations and grilled on their citizenship will be young Latinos. This could open the door wide to racial profiling by the police and undo the laudable effort behind the order in the first place: to get all residents to cooperate with the LAPD rather than to fear the police because of their immigration status.

Still, the inescapable fact is that any crime, gang related or otherwise, committed by illegal immigrants is going to draw justifiable howls for authorities to do their job and remove from the streets those who commit violent offenses and who are here illegally. People want to know that the authorities take seriously the issue of illegal immigration and its relation to street violence.

Amending, or even repealing, Special Order 40 won't bring Shaw's son back. Yet something must be done to patch the holes that allow violent criminals who are here illegally to fall through the cracks. We owe Shaw a debt of gratitude that we are beginning to face that fact.

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