LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Two Latino gang members have agreed to plead guilty Thursday to federal hate crime charges — the Southland’s first convictions under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act — stemming from a racially motivated New Year’s Eve attack on a Black youth in Compton.
Jeffrey “Turkey” Aguilar and Efren “Looney” Marquez were accused of beating a Black teen-ager in the head with a metal pipe, threatening a second juvenile with a gun and fleeing in a car driven by Marquez, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Court papers state that Aguilar and Marquez approached the 17-year-old — identified as M.L. — as he walked along a Compton street last New Year’s Eve, identified themselves as members of a local street gang and told the victim that he and his family were not allowed to live in the area because they are Black.
The gang members also referred to themselves as “NKs,” a racial term referring to someone who kills Black people, prosecutors said.
The boy ran to his girlfriend’s house, where several other Black teens were gathered; and Aguilar and Marquez yelled racial epithets at the group and demanded that they get out of the neighborhood, prosecutors said.
When the juveniles managed to run into the house, Aguilar and Marquez left but returned a short time later with about 15 to 20 other gang members who surrounded the victims’ homes and yelled racial slurs and warned them to get out of the neighborhood, prosecutors said.
One of the gang members also threw a beer bottle through a window of one of the homes, according to court papers.
Aguilar, 20, and Marquez, 22, admit in their plea agreements that “race and color were substantial motivating factors for the attack on M.L.”
Both face up to 10 years in federal prison when they are sentenced.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of
2009 makes it a federal hate crime to assault people based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.
It is named after Matthew Shepard, a gay college student tortured and killed in 1998, and James Byrd Jr., a Black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death the same year.
“Hate-fueled crimes have no place in our society,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said after Aguilar and Marquez were arraigned in February. “No one should have to look over their shoulder in fear because of who they are. Incidents like the one described in the federal indictment prove that we must remain vigilant to ensure that the rights of every single American resident are protected at all times.”
Aguilar, Marquez and a teen-age juvenile were arrested last Jan. 24 in connection with the attack. The status of the juvenile was not immediately known.
Media reports have documented a history of race-fueled violence in Compton apparently stemming from an influx of Latinos moving to the once predominantly Black area.
Fred Shuster | City News Service