No One Here Gets Out Alive

No One Here Gets Out Alive
The Mexican Mafia’s racial cleansing campaign targets L.A.


Photo by Ted Soqui

~ Consoling: Two who lost relatives to gang violence, Charlene Lovette, at right, and Beatrice Villa, hold hands with Mayor Antonio villaraigosa ~

n the words of the Rev, K.W. Tulloss, “the nightmare has come true.” Federal indictments unsealed on October 16 allege that leaders of the Florenza 13 (F 13s) gang acted on orders from the Mexican Mafia to cleanse their neighborhoods of African-American gang and non-gang members. “The most disturbing aspect is that gang members allegedly engaged in a series of attacks … that extended to innocent citizens who ended up being shot simply because of the color of their skin,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien.

The news was a bitter pill to black and Latino activists who struggled all year to get law enforcement and city leaders to admit that the rash of racially motivated killings and attacks against African-Americans and their Latino supporters is part of a larger and chilling plot – a highly organized effort by the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) to cleanse the many neighborhoods they control of their black population.

While law enforcement and prosecutors had previously admitted some Latino gangs engaged in racial attacks on innocent citizens, the Justice Department disclosures about the Mexican Mafia – known for its racist agenda against prison blacks as well as its collaboration with the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood – represented the first time that law enforcement publicly stated such a strong connection.

I was relieved this information finally surfaced because we’ve been trying to bring it to light for a long time and some individuals are saying we’re exaggerating,” Tuloss says. His mother recently moved from Harbor Gateway after 10 years because the hate-crime murder of 14-year-old Cheryl Green by the Latino gang, the 204s, made her worry that her African-American teenaged son – Tulloss’s brother – would be next. “But I’m furious that elected officials haven’t come together. The victims’ parents are furious. Those who have lost their children to hate crimes are furious.”

“How much innocent blood must be spilled before we do something?” It is a message Tulloss feels activists had made loud and clear since the January 2007 press conference organized by Project Islamic Hope’s Najee Ali in the aftermath of Cheryl Green’s murder. Joining him were members of the Mothers of Murdered Children, Tulloss (who is president of National Action Network, L.A. chapter), and Los Angeles Humanity Advocacy Group’s Melvin Snell.

Activists insisted that the Green murder in Harbor Gateway (where we learned that Latino gangs had forbidden blacks to cross the street) and hate-crime murders and attacks on blacks in Highland Park, weren’t random racial attacks. Rather, these show to them that the Mexican Mafia is moving on an agenda that forces African Americans living in Southern California areas under Mexican Mafia Control to leave or be killed.

In light of this, Snell, argue, LAPD’s gang strategy was like “putting a Band-Aid on cancer.”

Criminal attorney Anthony Willoughby, who has defended members of the Mexican Mafia, said that city leaders need to loudly condemn the racial killings and bring in the FBI, advice he gave L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa during the mayoral election. “The silence by elected officials has been deafening.” He repeats it now, adding, “There are major problems from Riverside all the way to L.A. The silence is an indictment of the black elected officials because they have sold their souls.”

To Luisa Prudhomme, the Justice Department hasn’t said anything she didn’t already know. Obsessed with the search for the Avenues gang shooter who murdered her African-American son Anthony in 2000, Prudhomme compiled an impressive roster of law enforcement officials who told her that the Mexican Mafia directed the racially motivated killing of Anthony, as well as homicides and attacks on other blacks in Highland Park. And yet, none of the law enforcement officials Prudhomme directed this reporter to call back in March would go on the record about the Mexican Mafia’s role in the Highland Park murders, including FBI agent Jerry Fradella, whom Prudhomme insists drew that connection for her. CityBeat contacted Fradella, who agreed to speak about it, pending approval by FBI press agent Laura Eimiller. But Eimiller e-mailed that Fradella worked the Avenues case “from a civil rights standpoint and is not an expert on the Mexican Mafia.”

Today Prudhomme asks the same question she’s asked a lot in the last six years: “Where’s the outrage?” Certainly there’s enough to go around. The arrests of the F 13s, the 2007 indictments of the Columbia Lil Cycos (a subset of the 18th Street Gang) and the “Coachella Eme” provide chilling details of the Mexican Mafia’s escalating grip on the Southern California streets. Taken together, the indictments, as well as an affidavit by an FBI agent unsealed last month, offer troublesome proof of the connections between Latino gangs and the prisons, where incarcerated gangbangers who fail to follow Mexican Mafia orders are dealt with swiftly and violently, while those who obey are protected.

In L.A., the F 13s began targeting black gang members supposedly around a beef with a Crips subset. The LA F13s is one of the largest street gangs in L.A. County, with family members spanning generations, too. This is organized crime: Networks of shooters, gunrunners, drug dealers, legal fees paid in bags of cash. Generations tied to a gang that is potentially as powerful as the Sicilian Mafia was in the ’50s, with a racial agenda to boot.

Blacks murdered standing on street corners, or waiting for the bus. Gang members bragging that they “got another one.” There were 41 murders in Florence-Firestone in 2005. Only half of the victims were gang affiliated.

“I feel vindicated,” says Ali, who adds that he’s gotten flack all year from his Latino and African-American friends who feared this dialogue would further fuel the fires of racial hatred.

In 2006 and 2007, The Southern Poverty Law Center website offered articles about ethnic cleansing and the Mexican Mafia by Brentin Mock, including one by Tony Rafael, a writer who has been tracking the Mexican Mafia for nearly a decade. The dialogue deteriorated into fodder for right-wing extremists. Black minuteman organizer Ted Hayes seized on “ethnic cleansing” to rally anti-immigrant forces around a theme that “illegal aliens” were killing blacks. Mock apologized, even though both of his articles would prove to be accurate.


The under-reported story

The extent of this organized racial hatred is difficult to comprehend, much less report, and maybe no writer knows this better than Tony Rafael, who insists that he had the story years ago. To get out the word, he ended up establishing a blog, In the Hat, and writing The Mexican Mafia, published in August by Encounter books.

Rafael will not use his real name, nor will he disclose where he lives or works, claiming that he has received threats. He will say that he was born in New York, where he saw his first Mafia hit when he was 11. “I was sitting on my stoop waiting for my friends going to the beach,” he recalls. “A car pulled up outside the luncheonette, a guy gets out, goes in, tells the guy behind the counter to get out of the way. He gets the guy he was looking for, pins him to the wall, shoots and then drives off.”

He had a frame of reference and then he began covering trials and studying the differences between L.A. street gangs and the Mafia – the gang he understood as a kid. And he found that, unlike black gangs, Latino gangs have a structure. “Hispanic gangs have a hierarchy. If you are Mexican Mafia, they pay for your attorney, make sure your family is taken care of. You get proceeds from the street taxation. Sometimes the family member will act as the mouthpiece for the arrested guy. He will act as a conduit for orders from the prison.”

Such details can now be gleaned by reading the unsealed indictments against the “Coachella Eme,” charging Richard Aguirre’s mother, Jovita Aguirre, with allegedly laundering money and carrying out orders from Pelican Bay where her son, alleged Mexican Mafia kingpin Richard Aguirre, is serving a life sentence.

In many ways The Mexican Mafia is as complete a guide we’ve gotten yet to the gang’s hierarchy, methods of amassing wealth and power, why they kill, and how members use their girlfriends and mothers to run drugs and orders from prisons. The sheer volume of information the book presents is cohesively written, and once you make peace with countless names and details, it’s a good read. However, the book is missing gang interviews; it’s so much in the mind of law enforcement that the author sometimes becomes an apologist for questionable police tactics like witness baiting, as well as the ill-fated CRASH unit, which went down in flames when citizens realized that sometimes cops can act as bad as gangs. With LAPD Chief William Bratton – who missed the Mexican Mafia connection by a mile – Rafael goes easy. “In New York he had 37,000 to deal with the situation,” Rafael says. “I mean, how big is L.A.? And all you have is 200 cops driving the streets.”

A Newsweek reporter who asked Bratton about the Mexican Mafia connection in February 2007 got this: “There were stories a couple of years back about the Mexican Mafia targeting blacks, but we could not document it anywhere.” That same month an African-American resident of Harbor Gateway recalled a visit from the 204s instructing him to stay away from the Del Amo Market on 204th Street. He called LAPD. The officers showed up but said that blacks had done the same thing to Hispanics years ago.

City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo hired former U.S. prosecutor Bruce Riordan as senior supervising attorney for anti-gang activities in November 2006. Riordan had investigated and prosecuted Mexican Mafia members; yet in March, when asked about the Mexican Mafia, he said. “I am totally unaware of [a plot]. I haven’t seen hard existence of one, or even non-courtroom evidence. I’ve never seen any soft evidence – admissible and inadmissible.”

So it’s just not obvious that law enforcement deserves a pass, here. The Mexican Mafia similarly ignores crooked corrections officers, politicians, and police that inevitably make all organized crime possible.

A self-described independent, Rafael wrote on in 2004 that liberals are addicted to “Thug Love.” The piece offers an interesting critique of Tom Hayden’s Street Gangs, but broadly accuses the left, and specifically Hayden, of harboring “a perverse admiration for thugs.” Rafael has also lectured on the Mexican Mafia for the David Horowitz Freedom Center while they promoted “Islamofascism Awareness Week.”



~ Harsh time: Eleven-year-old Ivory Berryman and her sister, Amber live two blocks away from a “forbidden line” in Harbor Gateway. ~

In April, making the author himself the subject of controversy, Colorlines, “the National Newsmagazine on Race and Politics,” ran “The Media Gets it Wrong: L.A. Gang Violence Not ‘Ethnic Cleansing,’” broadly condemning press coverage of “ethnic cleansing” and singling out Rafael. “Average Latinos and African Americans do not have problems coexisting in L.A.,” argues Noreen McClendon, executive director of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. “This is a fight between gang members who happen to be of a different nationality. It’s irresponsible of the media to say, “ethnic cleansing” because people inside the penitentiary receive this information and it can produce the very things we don’t want – gang members attacking people based on false reports.”

Ali disagrees. He can’t get the story out fast enough. “There are the murders of innocent African-Americans and their Latino friends and supporters, unprovoked attacks on black inmates in the jails and prisons, high school and neighborhood race wars … And it has the potential to spread into a race war if the wrong person is killed.”

Snell believes the media is either under-reporting the ethnic cleansing story, or flat out reporting it wrong. He notes a “very disappointing” March 2007 article in The Nation, “The Smog of Race War in L.A.” by Roberto Lovato. In it, Lovato accuses the media of hyping the ethnic cleansing aspect of the racial killings instead of reporting on L.A.’s “dismal racial and economic situation.”

Lovato writes: “…The hyperbolic talk of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘terrorism’ sounds a dissonant chord among the actual residents of Harbor Gateway, like Green’s mother, Charlene Lovett … Lovett says that truth has become another casualty, singling out one CNN story for its agonizing inaccuracy. ‘It enrages me to see how the reporter made it into a “gang on gang” story, that Latinos are striving to be better than black people in the area … My daughter was not part of any gang.’”

I was there with a tape recorder on the day the author framed this argument. Najee Ali and Melvin Snell held a mini press conference for Lovato and myself in Lovett’s apartment. And Lovett admitted she had an issue with early media reports that her daughter was in a gang, but her greater concern, which she made perfectly clear to Lovato, was that her daughter was 8

killed because of the color of her skin. At no time did Lovett express any contempt for the media’s reporting ethnic cleansing, despite Lovato’s several attempts to prod her with “But you’re not saying Latinos here hate blacks.”

“I am saying that,” Lovett finally blurted out. “I’m not saying it’s a problem with Latinos generally. I wouldn’t dare say that. All I’m saying is that the gangs here have let it be known that they hate black people.”

“Did the writer himself have an agenda?” asks Snell. “It’s definitely contradictory to what occurred and he quoted Charlene out of context. She expressed, like I did and Najee did, that this was about gangs specifically targeting innocent African-Americans. That was her outrage.”

On the day following her daughter’s murder, Lovett woke up to racial epithets painted on the garage across the street that Snell insists weren’t there before. Just two houses away a black man was shot in a racial attack. Within weeks, Latino gang members shot another black man while he was trying to drop off his daughters at a pajama party.

“The writer could have gotten the story if he just walked the streets in a three-block radius from where we were.”

You could argue – as these activists, and Rafael, have – that ignoring this story is also ignoring that Latinos are primary targets. “I’ve been contacted by both African American and Latino members in these communities that have been approached to pay taxes to the gangs,” Snell says. “They don’t want to go to law enforcement because they are afraid that will get back to the gangs. Suppression of this story is not the key.”

“At the end of each month, I look at the gang crimes by race,” says LAPD Detective Rick Ortiz, who is featured prominently in The Mexican Mafia for initiating the hate crime trial against the Avenues. “In an average month we’ll have 50 gang crimes. Of that, about half are gang related. With both gang on gang and non-gang murders most of the victims are Hispanic.

“This has nothing to do with the sheer number of people killing each other or the fact that more blacks kill blacks or more browns kill browns, which is either by gangs, or it’s personal,” he argues. “The issue is not when you have a beef. It’s when you attack a whole race. If white people were doing this there would be outrage. Everyone needs to get a grip, OK? Forget hurt feelings. There are people out here getting killed.

stef Posted by on Nov 8 2007. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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