The mothers of two men facing federal hate crimes charges told radio listeners Saturday their sons are innocent, playing down reports of racial conflicts in Compton between Latinos and African-Americans.
The women appeared with other Compton residents on "The Hutchinson Report" on KPFK Pacifica Radio, a program hosted by commentator and critic Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who often focuses on race relations and social justice issues.
The men who face federal charges are accused of intimidating and trying to force African-Americans to leave the portion of Compton that the Compton 155 gang claims as their territory.
"I was in shock, because I had to find out through the media that my son was being accused of hate crimes," Ernestina Munoz said of her son, Efren Marquez Jr., 21.
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Marquez and Jeffrey Aguilar, 19, were arrested in January and were listed as documented members of the Compton 155 gang in a federal indicment against them.
They are accused of threatened a 17-year-old African-American, following the victim to his girlfriend's home, yelling racial slurs and demanding the victim and other African-Americans leave the neighborhood in an attack on Dec. 31, 2012.
"I’m here to clear my son’s name," Munoz said. "They way they are saying through the media that he is being accused of hate crimes and that we are racist ... We’re not."
The indictment alleges the two men assaulted the victim with a metal pipe and threatened another juvenile with a gun. Shortly after, 15 other gang members went to the residence, yelled racial slurs and smashed one of the windows of the house, according to the indictment.
Maria Elaina Lamas, mother of Aguilar, said she feels police arrested her son based on past criminal activity unrelated to hate crimes.
"Stop instigating our community," Lamas said. "We are living under tension, racial acts, prosecutions, verbal and physical harassments. We the community have the rights of human beings, and we don’t want so many raids. Being Latino, I was a victim of a raid in my own home, and that needs to stop."
The Compton 155 gang allegedly uses the acronym "N.K." for "N----- Killers" and shouts "N.K." at African-Americans in effort to drive them out of the community, according to the federal indictment.
Los Angeles residents who phoned into the show expressed diverse points of view, referring to the change in the racial landscape of Compton over the past 25 years. They discussed the need for education in the community and sometimes made inflammatory remarks about immigration.
Alvaro Cerda was in studio and said Latino residents in Compton do not want to be associated with gangs.
"We, the tax-paying homeowners who are not in gangs, don’t want to be labeled as part of hate crimes," Cerda said. "We continue to be stereotyped as participants in front of our children while dropping them at school ... We’re not all like that. We want to be in peace."
Cerda’s brother, Alfonso Cerda, was killed in a collision with a patrol car while he was riding a bicycle on Oct. 8, 2012, in Inglewood.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department originally reported Alfonso Cerda was carrying a gun, but the department later stated those reports were inaccurate.
"Since the early days, blacks and browns together have protected and embraced the community," Alfaro Cerda said. "Latino citizens refuse to take part in hate crimes ... Everyone should not worry about looking behind their shoulders for safety."