"Hands Across Azusa" Aims to Strengthen Racial Unity in San Gabriel Valley Communities

The event meant to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s message of respect comes on the heels of law enforcement's unveiling a new way to quell racial violence in the city.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In a city plagued by racial tensions between Latinos and African Americans, residents of Azusa on Sunday marked the 11th annual Hands Across Azusa, an event meant to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and strengthen race relations. Michelle Valles reports from Azusa for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2013. (Published Sunday, Jan 20, 2013)

    In a city plagued by racial tensions between Latinos and African Americans, residents of Azusa on Sunday marked the 11th annual Hands Across Azusa, an event meant to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and strengthen race relations.

    "To have some type of history where there wasn't that unity in Azusa, it's a beautiful thing to know here we are today," said James Mosley, who participated in this year’s Hands Across Azusa.

    Gathered at City Hall, residents and civil rights activists remembered when a racial border divided Azusa from nearby Duarte during the early 1990s.

    "There was time when you couldn't mix those races at all," said Raymond Ortiz, born and raised in Azusa.

    Ortiz recalled an understood rule of the time: African Americans did not cross into Azusa, and Latinos did not cross into Duarte.

    "There was never any harmony amongst the groups," he said.

    In 2011, a federal grand jury indicted 51 gang members for terrorizing and driving out African Americans from Azuza, a predominately Latino community.

    And last week, law enforcement unveiled a novel approach to cutting down on gang violence in Azusa. Prosecutors used civil rights statutes against a Latino gang member who targeted African Americans, a move that won praise from victims and a promise from law enforcement to do more.

    Residents said while there’s still work to be done, much has changed in the city of 46,000.

    Former residents of Duarte, the Simpsons chose to retire in Azusa seven years ago. The move was indicative of the recent changes of tolerance and integration in the community, which the pair said is "warm and respectful."

    "I do feel that when it comes to segregation, we segregate ourselves," said Corine Simpson, "So we try to be open to all races so we can receive it back."

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