A Gang War with a Twist; Gangbangers in L.A. on Trial for Deadly Hate Crimes

By Murr, Andrew | Newsweek, July 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Gang War with a Twist; Gangbangers in L.A. on Trial for Deadly Hate Crimes


Murr, Andrew, Newsweek


Byline: Andrew Murr

Kenneth wilson was murdered looking for a parkingspot in Latino gang territory. Driving in the working-class Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park in 1999, the African-American man passed a stolen van filled with members of the feared Avenues street gang. Seeing Wilson, one of the Latino gangsters asked: "You wanna kill a n----r?" according to one gang member who has become an informant for federal prosecutors. "F--- it!" the others agreed, as three of them barreled out of the van and gunned down the 38-year-old.

Was Wilson killed because he was black? That's what federal prosecutors in L.A. contend, and they're taking the unusual approach of prosecuting four of the Avenues gang-bangers under a civil-rights-era statute and a hate-crime law based on the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The men are on trial in a high-security courtroom, charged with a six-year conspiracy to enforce an alleged gang "policy" to intimidate blacks into steering clear of predominantly Latino Highland Park. Kenneth Wilson was killed "because the Avenues had promised each other ... that they would drive African-Americans out of the neighborhood by threats, by force, by murder," prosecutor Alex Bustamante told jurors in his opening statement.

The heart of the case against Gilbert (Lucky) Saldana, Alex (Bird) Martinez, Fernando (Sneaky) Cazares and Porfirio (Dreamer) Avila--a fifth Avenues gangster is still a fugitive--will come from the testimony of three former gang members turned informants. …

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