Op-Ed: L.A.’s history of Latino-Black political conflict? It’s a curiously short tale
When I first became fascinated with Los Angeles street culture — and street culture in Los Angeles — in the early 1990s, almost everything was new, unfamiliar, and exciting.
But by the late 1990s, things seemed stagnant, and even a little depressing.
The new and unfamiliar culture was almost exclusively white and male, especially the part of it known as “South Central,” the area I refer to as the “hood.” The old culture were black, Hispanic, and female, especially the part of it known as East Los Angeles. And the established culture was Latino.
That all changed in the mid-’90s, when Latino gangs from the Southwest — including the Crips, the Bloods, and Los Aztecas — began to flood the streets, including some parts of South Central and East Los Angeles. The “Mexican Mafia,” as the Crips and Los Aztecas were sometimes called, soon became known as the Mexican Mafia, by which they were known to outsiders.
But then, a new influx would suddenly arrive: The Black Panthers.
“The Panthers’ presence opened the doors,” says Alex Valdéz, a sociologist and activist who has written extensively about the history of the Los Angeles Black Panthers. “What brought about the change? That has probably never been determined, but it was definitely a catalyst. People were no longer waiting around for this [the Mexican Mafia/Mexican Mafia] or that [the Crips/Crips] to come to the hood.”
Valdéz and many other analysts who have studied the city’s history agree that it was the Black Panthers that really pushed the changes to a new and very dangerous level.
Black Panthers, Black and Mexican gang members, and the Crips and Los Aztecas soon formed a loose alliance of power called the Los Angeles Black Panthers, or Los Bases.
During the 1980s, while many local gangs grew increasingly violent (including the Crips and Bloods), the Los Bases seemed to have some strange peace with the Mexican Mafia. (For a time, the Mexican Mafia was the Los Angeles Black Panther chapter, while at the same time, the Crips and Los Aztecas were the San Diego Black Panthers.)
When the San Diego chapter was dismantled (and the Black