Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Black-Latino tensions grow in Los Angeles

Aurelio Rojas:

Campaigning in African American churches while running for Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa stopped at Redeemer Baptist Church in South Los Angeles.

The Rev. Robert Lee DeFrance Jr. bluntly told Villaraigosa his congregants' big fear: that they would be left behind if a Latino became mayor.

"The needs of African Americans continue to be slighted, and the Spanish population is getting preference in jobs," DeFrance told Villaraigosa, who assured the gathering that his administration would be color blind.

The day after he was elected the city's first modern Latino mayor last year, Villaraigosa's visit to a San Fernando Valley high school was marred by one in a series of brawls between African American and Latino students.

In April, when more than 500,000 people marched through the streets of Los Angeles in support of illegal immigrants, Najee Ali had a visceral reaction.

"It was a real sense of fear," said the African American activist who campaigned for Villaraigosa. "Fear of being displaced."

As the region's Latino population grows with immigration, mostly from Mexico, African Americans are finding it more difficult to land jobs and housing.

Latinos now make up an estimated 45 percent of the 10 million residents of Los Angeles County; African Americans account for only 10 percent.

Even South Los Angeles, where rioting by African Americans against police oppression in 1965 and in 1992 sparked violence in other U.S. cities, is predominantly Latino.

Rioting in recent months between Latinos and African Americans in the county jail — the nation's largest — has spilled into the street.

Fights between African American and Latino students were the most the frequently reported racial conflict reported last year to the county Human Relations Commission — and African Americans were most often the victims.

America's second-largest city, often a social beacon, is again ground zero as other urban areas brace for similar demographic turbulence.

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