Kendrec McDade's shooting revives longstanding tensions between blacks and Latinos in LA

Flowers and votive candles left by family and friends on the Pasadena corner where Kendrec McDade was killed on March 24, 2012.
Flowers and votive candles left by family and friends on the Pasadena corner where Kendrec McDade was killed on March 24, 2012.
Ruxandra Guidi
Flowers and votive candles left by family and friends on the Pasadena corner where Kendrec McDade was killed on March 24, 2012.
Pasadena's Villa Parke Community Center, one of many neighborhoods around Southern California where demographics are increasingly Latino.
Ruxandra Guidi
Flowers and votive candles left by family and friends on the Pasadena corner where Kendrec McDade was killed on March 24, 2012.
People in Carson attend a rally for Kendrec McDade and donate money to help his family pay for his burial.
Ruxandra Guidi

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Two weeks after 19-year-old Kendrec McDade was shot and killed by Pasadena police, much about how or why it happened remains a mystery. But some of the conversations left in its wake have revived longstanding tensions between blacks and Latinos in Los Angeles.

McDade’s fatal shooting by police did not surprise the folks at a recent rally — around 75 concerned parents, residents and church leaders in the South L.A. city of Carson, which has a large African-American community. McDade was shot for being a young black man, they said; for being perceived as armed and dangerous.

McDade was shot by two white police officers, but the Pasadena police chief is Latino, as is the 911 caller who lied about McDade having a weapon. In a lawsuit that has been filed by the McDade family, their attorney alleges a pattern of abuse toward African-Americans by another Latino Pasadena police officer, who was involved in the early investigation.

At the Carson rally for Kendrec McDade, activist and commentator on race issues Jasmyne Cannick made a point to shift the attention away from the undocumented immigrant who made the 911 call, Oscar Carrillo, and the chief of Pasadena Police, Phillip Sanchez.

“While everybody’s pointing the finger at Oscar Carrillo or Chief Sanchez and the two police officers," said Cannick, "[McDade's] still not buried. That should be the main focus of conversation.”

Last weekend, McDade’s parents were finally able to come up with the funds to bury their son — but the McDade case is just the latest troubling incident involving Latinos and blacks in Southern California.

Just last month, seven black teens in Palmdale beat up a fifteen year-old Latino because, in their words, he was Hispanic. In Glassell Park, an African-American family was recently threatened by a known Latino gang member who’s since been charged with assault with a deadly weapon. It’s a recurrence of similar ugly incidents in that neighborhood from recent years.

Four years ago, a black student at Los Angeles High School was gunned down by a Latino gang member who was in the country illegally. The victim’s family launched an unsuccessful ballot initiative that would’ve given law enforcement officers more leeway in questioning the legal status of Latino detainees.

A new survey done in time for the 20th anniversary of the 1992 riots by Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles reveals a difference of opinion between Latinos and blacks when it comes to tensions between both groups. Thirty-two-percent of black respondents said relations between their community and Latinos have worsened in the past 20 years. Only 15 percent of Latino respondents agreed with that assessment.

More than two weeks have passed since McDade's shooting. At the Pasadena corner where he died, friends and family have left votive candles and flowers in a temporary memorial.

The surrounding neighborhood is heavily Latino; there is a taco truck parked nearby, and numerous business signs in Spanish. Many historically black neighborhoods like this one, in north and eastern Pasadena, as well as parts of South L.A., have seen a large influx of Latino and immigrant residents over the past 15 years.

“I think any time you get a growing population that is largely moving into relatively new territory, that territory has been somebody else’s neighborhood," said Jaime Regalado, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Cal State Los Angeles. "In this case, we are talking about an African-American neighborhood, so there’s going to be some hard feelings.”

Not surprisingly, it isn’t easy to have conversations about tensions between blacks and Latinos, especially in the wake of the McDade incident. When Joe Hopkins, publisher of the black weekly publication, the Pasadena Journal, wrote a commentary saying Pasadena Police Chief Sanchez went out of his way to address concerns after the shooting, Hopkins was criticized by fellow African-Americans.

Sitting in his office, located in a rapidly changing Pasadena neighborhood, Hopkins said he respects the work of Chief Sanchez, but also understands the ongoing strain between blacks and Latinos in L.A. The way Hopkins sees it, this goes back to the black power and civil rights movements of the 1960s.

“Let me tell you why it’s painful," said Hopkins, after a long pause. "It’s painful, because when we were on the streets, knocking on the doors, getting beat up, getting sent to jail for picketing — the white women weren’t there, but they got the biggest benefit of the civil rights movement. The Latinos weren’t there. And so they are now reaping the benefit, and they don’t look back at who opened the doors for them. So now that the door is open and you’re in — why am I on the outside looking in?”

Hopkins insisted that he is open to all cultures and ethnicities, but as the Latino population grows rapidly and greater numbers enter the workforce, find economic success or graduate from college, it only serves to remind him of the many challenges left for many more people of his color. This reminder is at the heart of tensions reawakened by the McDade shooting, according to Regalado.

“Even though we’re in a down economy and you see Latinos suffering tremendously, especially in the building trades, nevertheless, there have been conflicts since 1992, especially in the Southland," said Regalado. "Not only over Latinos moving in to formerly almost solid African-American neighborhoods, but also largely supplanting African-Americans in various types of jobs.”

This demographic and economic trend found in Pasadena or South L.A. is a growing reality in Southern California. But, Regalado added, it is also a chance for institutions like police and city government to step in more actively, generating opportunity for all groups.