The pain and suffering etched on the face of Jamiel Shaw Sr. seen in news shots continues to torment many in Los Angeles. That includes LAPD chief William Bratton, and now the Los Angeles city council. Shaw’s son, 17 year old star football star Jamiel Shaw, II, was gunned down within shouting distance of his house. The suspect 19-year-old Pedro Espinoza is a suspected gang member and an illegal immigrant. That understandably doubly riled up Shaw and he demands that the city council drastically change Special Order 40 that prevents law enforcement from probing into the legal status of suspects. The change would not have saved his son’s life. Yet Shaw’s demand is a good demand. It rams home the point that there are gaping holes in how immigration laws are enforced on L.A. streets. And because of that many violent criminals who are here illegally may be falling through the cracks.
But there’s a danger here. While Shaw took special care when he implored the city council to scrap the order to say that it was not aimed at Latinos, the hard reality is that those who are most likely to be stopped in gang crime related murder investigations and grilled on their citizenship will be young Latinos. This could open the door wide to racial profiling.
However, a foot drag by the city council on taking action on Shaw’s call for a hard look at Special Order 40 won’t and shouldn’t set well with many African-Americans. They are adamant that they are under mortal siege from Latino gang members. Bratton and the LAPD can pile all the cold stats they want on the public table to back up the claim that with the exception of young Shaw, and a handful of other blacks, the majority of the killings of blacks are by other blacks. 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 in the minds of African-Americans for it to be casually dismissed. It makes no difference whether the suspected hate violence perpetrators are Klan or Aryan Nation gangsters, or Latino gang bangers. It certainly makes no difference to argue 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 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 deepen racial divisions. Shaw’s call for eviscerating Special Order 40 touches a raw and sore nerve among many blacks. The inescapable fact is that any crimes, gang related or otherwise, committed by illegal immigrants are going to draw justifiable howls for authorities to do their job and remove those that commit violent offenses and who are here illegally from the streets. This may or may not save more lives, but it will certainly give many a sense that authorities are taking the issue of illegal immigration and its relation to street violence more seriously.
This is part of the reason Bratton got slammed for reflexively and seemingly much too defensively digging his heels in 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 has gotten way out of control and they are bearing the brunt of that legal laxity.
Bratton wisely got the drift and backed off. He says that in the future he will be much slower on the verbal draw to rule out that at least some of the black and brown violence may have a racial animus.
Changing Special Order 40 won’t bring Shaw’s son back. It may not save other lives since criminals have never been known to holster their guns out of fear of the law, any law. However, his call has forced us again to think hard about illegal immigration, its relation to crime and gang violence and beyond that the always thorny problem of black and Latino relations. We owe Shaw a debt of gratitude for that.
– 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 (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).