Monday, December 11, 2006

Halloween Racial Incident, Long Beach, California

On Hallowen eve, 2006 in the affluent area of Bixby Knolls located in Long Beach, California a racial incident tinged with gender overtones took place. Three young women, 19, 20, and 21 respectively were beaten brutally by a group of African American teens. The only trigger seemed to be that three young white women walked by a group of Black male youths who made suggestive gestures and remarks which were not reciprocated. Nearby a group of African American teen girls were standing. When the women came back from seeing a nearby "haunted house" they were beaten by a number of the teen women and several of the Black males joined in the melee. One young woman was severely injured ( receiving a severe type of eye injury). The eye injury may have been as a result of being purposely hit on the head with a skateboard by one of the teens, other things like branches were also used to hit the young women, all three were badly brutalized. Several African Americans witnessed the incident including an 18 year old woman who came out of her house and saw the event. I think she tried to intervene and so did a 35 year old African American man who drove by the scene and most likely prevented a homicide or several homides from happening that particular night.

As a resident of Long Beach and a long time activist and supporter of civil rights, I was apalled by these macabre events which as a sociologist I first thought might have been the result of collective behavior, some type of mob behavior I thought fueled by an underlying rage festering against white people who might be seen as privileged or as a threat to the Black teenage girls that stood around that evening. I understand the young African American women involved in this terrible scene were top athletes and several had scholarship to attend good colleges. I do no know enough of the details to come up with a good analysis of what caused this disturbing behavior. I don't think at this point anyone has a good handle on the event. I am certain the incident and its aftermath will be researched in depth at a future point in time with many interviews of those involved or witnessing what transpired.

The real question is where does the City of Long Beach and its residents go from here. We already have a Human Relations Commissiion and a City Dignity Officer who has been involved. We have City Council people and a Major who cares about all the resident of Long Beach. One aspect that is disturbing is some of the parents of the accused parties are twisting and trying to spin the incident to make it appear that the kids who were arrested are not the real culprits and that many innocent ones got away. Newspaper articles from the LBReport to Press-Telegram to LATimes pointed out that several of the witnesses including at least one victim identified the accused by clothing and specific jewelrly that they wore as well as other identifiable evidence i.e type of car the people got into etc .

Some persons within the African American community are doing the OJ thing again taking sides based on race rather than objectively taking in the specific sequence of events and circumstantial aspects of the proceedings. Usually I would be on the side of the minority group individuals accused of these crimes. I would be suspiciously eyeing every move the prosecution and police have made. One should be ever vigilant. But there seems to be no malice here on part of the most affected parties. Though the relatives of the accused raise all kinds of objections and rationallizations, I think they have little case to stand on. Obviously, the suspects are innocent until proven guilty and they have not been found guilty yet.

Fear has been expressed that a guilty verdict could result in race riots and violence that the Long Beach community as far as I can tell is not prepared to face. If the trial is handled fairly and I think it will be and if calm heads rule all around, the outcome may not be as grim as some might suspect. The sad truth though is Long Beach is an economically and racially divided city, not just divided and segregated between poor and affluent, Black and White but also by many other kinds nationalities and ethnic grops including Latinos from Central America and Mexico, Cambodians, Mung, Filipinos, Indians and many other groupings, Poverty and terrible pollution from the Long Beach Ports and truck traffic is actually killing many among our midst expecially those living in the poorer neightborhood of Long Beach. It is not a pretty picture. The new Major Bob Foster is trying to call attention to these issues.

It is clear Long Beach has started paying attention to all these issues including the race issue very late in the day. The Long Beach City schools have been fighting an uphill battle to deal with racial fallout among the students for decades. It just seems like too little too late. I think some major offensive on the part of city officials has to take place not just more window dressing. I hope some Black leaders will come to the fore and make some sense of all this mess. Leaders of all races should come together and then work in their communities and send powerful messages that this kind of violence directed at any particular racial group will not be tolerated. Racism can no longer be tolerated in this city on any level. This has to be as true for our police, fire, schools, government, public services, parks.Each one of us has to personally take responsibility to educate the young and be involved with youth in a way that prevents this festering hatred from becoming the disease that it is. I know this is easy to say and harder to make happen but we have to try. Any ideas of what we can do? Volunteer to mentor a young person, volunteer for a reading program, work on a project that helps young people in an interracial type setting. Please add your ideas.

Sharon Raphael
Long Beach