Hate crime charges filed against gang members in Compton case

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte announced that hate crime charges have been filed against two Latino gang members in Compton.
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte announced that hate crime charges have been filed against two Latino gang members in Compton.

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Two members of a Compton street gang have been indicted on federal hate crime charges in connection with an attack on four juveniles on New Year’s Eve.

Named in the indictment are 19-year-old Jeffrey Aguilar and 21-year-old Efren Marquez, Jr., both alleged members of the Compton 155 street gang, which prosecutors say uses violence and threats to try to drive black residents out of its territory. The attack last December 31st was racially motivated, says U.S. Attorney Andre Birrote, Jr.

“The evidence in this investigation has led us to believe that they have a racial animus toward African Americans," Birrote said. "There have been reports of the term 'NK' being used — N standing for the N-word, K standing for killers.”

Aguilar and Marquez allegedly confronted a 17-year-old boy on the street and followed him to a house where they yelled racial slurs at the occupants, who included teens and a 10-year-old child, and demanded that they leave the neighborhood. One teenaged victim was assaulted with a metal pipe; another was threatened with a gun. The complaint says 14 other gang members showed up at the home, shouting slurs.

The case is an extreme example of racial tension as Compton and other traditionally black L.A. neighborhoods have become increasingly Latino. It’s the first violent, racially-motivated hate crime reported in Compton since 2010, when there were five such incidents, says Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

“Two thirds of the population in Compton are Hispanic and one third are African-American, and therefore there is a demographic shift," Baca said. "But given the potential with the gang problems in the city, you would think [there] would be greater and higher, race-based forms of violence...it appears as though the problem is low, but it still is a problem.”

Aguilar and Marquez are charged with five felony offenses, including conspiracy to violate the civil rights of their victims, and four counts of interfering with housing rights. Birrote said this is only the second time federal prosecutors in California’s Central District have used civil rights charges in a hate crime case.