LOS ANGELES - In a murderous quest aimed at "cleansing" their turf of
snitches and rival gangsters, members of one of Los Angeles County's
most vicious Latino gangs sometimes killed people just because of their
race, an investigation found.
There were even instances in which Florencia 13 leaders ordered killings
of black gangsters and then, when the intended victim couldn't be
located, said "Well, shoot any black you see," Los Angeles County
Sheriff Lee Baca said.
"In certain cases some murders were just purely motivated on killing a
black person," Baca said.
Authorities say there were 20 murders among more than 80 shootings
documented during the gang's rampage in the hardscrabble Florence-
Firestone neighborhood, exceptional even in an area where gang violence
has been commonplace for decades. They don't specify the time frame or
how many of the killings were racial.
Los Angeles has struggled with gang violence for years, especially
during the wars in the late 1980s and early '90s between the Crips and
the Bloods — both black gangs. Latino gangs have gained influence since
then as the Hispanic population surged.
Evidence of Florencia 13, or F13, is easy to find in Florence-Firestone.
Arrows spray-painted on the wall of a liquor store mark the gang's
boundary and graffiti warns rivals to steer clear.
The gang's name comes from the neighborhood that is its stronghold and
the 13th letter of the alphabet — M — representing the gang's ties to
the Mexican Mafia.
Federal, state and local officials worked together to charge 102 men
linked to F13 with racketeering, conspiracy to murder, weapons
possession, drug dealing and other crimes. In terms of people charged,
it's the largest-ever federal case involving a Southern California gang,
prosecutors say. More than 80 of those indicted are in custody.
But eliminating the gang won't be easy. It's survived for decades and is
believed to have about 2,000 members. Its reach extends to Nevada,
Arizona and into prisons, where prosecutors say incarcerated gang
leaders were able to order hits on black gangsters.
According to the indictment, F13's leader, Arturo Castellanos, sent word
in 2004 from California's fortress-like Pelican Bay State Prison that he
wanted his street soldiers to begin "cleansing" Florence-Firestone of
black gangsters, notably the East Coast Crips, and snitches.
His followers eagerly obeyed, according to federal prosecutors.
In one case, F13 members came across a black man at a bus stop, shouted
"Cheese toast!" and fired. "Cheese toast" is a derogatory name for East
Coast Crips, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin S. Rosenberg said.
The victim, apparently targeted only because of his skin color, survived
being shot several times, Rosenberg said.
F13 isn't the only Latino gang linked to racial killings. Last year,
four members of The Avenues, a gang from the Highland Park area east of
downtown Los Angeles, were convicted of hate crimes for killing a black
man in what prosecutors called a campaign to drive blacks from that
neighborhood. And last January, authorities announced a crackdown on the
204th Street gang following the killing of a 14-year-old black girl.
The violence goes both ways, said Adam Torres, a Los Angeles County
Sheriff's Department gang detective whose beat includes Florence-
During a recent patrol on the east side of the neighborhood, he pointed
to a cinderblock wall peppered with bullet holes. Torres said the Crips
still control that area and any Hispanic there is at risk of being shot.
Despite the wave of violence, George Tita, a criminologist with the
University of California, Irvine, said racially motivated gang killings
are an exception. Latinos and blacks are far more likely to be murdered
by one of their own.
"You don't see these major black-brown wars, either within the context
of gangs or outside the context of gangs," Tita said.
Residents of Florence-Firestone are loath to discuss gangs, fearful they
might end up as targets, but there are signs of change. Murders in the
neighborhood dropped from 43 in 2005 to 19 in 2006, Baca said. For 2007,
there were 19 murders as of Dec. 24.
Jose Garcia sees the difference. The security doors on the store where
he works aren't covered with graffiti as often and he hasn't heard a
gunshot in two months.
"It used to be at least once or twice a week," he said.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE - YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED
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