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Statement in Support of Alex Sanchez

November 10, 2009


Today I had the pleasure to speak with Alex Sanchez’s brother Oscar and an organizer from Homies Unidos who will remain unnamed. For those of you who do not know about Alex Sanchez’ case, he is named in a federal indictment targeting Mara Salvatrucha gang members for a number of crimes. However, Alex is not involved with the gang and has actually done the opposite: he is the head director of Homies Unidos, a gang rehabilitation and prevention program. The inclusion of Sanchez as a “gang member” in this indictment is obviously political.

In the 1990s, Alex Sanchez was granted political asylum after arguing that he would be killed if he was returned to El Salvador and that he had been victim of harassment by the Los Angeles Police during the Rampart corruption scandal. Since then, he has remained an outspoken critic of police repression in Los Angeles, especially in the Pico Union area which was devastated by the Rampart Division’s corrupt tactics. Lead by officer Rafael Perez, some of these tactics included dropping arrested gang members off in a rival’s turf, planting false evidence, selling drugs into the community itself (Perez alone sold over $800,000 worth), bank robberies, perjury, and the list goes on. Alex’s brother and the organizer from Homies Unidos implied that his outspoken stance against such misconduct was enough to get him on the LAPD’s bad side already. However a further look at the gangs and neighborhood Alex worked in adds more to the story.

Los Angeles is a sanctuary city, as are most cities in the county, meaning that the police are prohibited from enforcing immigration laws or cooperating with immigration authorities. This helps to protect undocumented immigrants from police by instilling trust that if they call to report a crime their legal status will not be subject to debate. The LAPD, however, has a different protocol when dealing with gang members from the 18th Street and MS-13 gang. I was informed that if police see tattoos or anything implying that someone may be a member of either gang, they are taken in to have their names run through the LAPD and immigration databases. Unfortunately this is due to the racist media’s promotion of these two as the world’s most dangerous gangs that are usually made up of “illegal” immigrants, though both formed in the U.S.

If you look on the LAPD’s website you can see a list of gangs with what are called “gang injunctions,” basically a court order against gang members of a certain neighborhood. As we spoke about these, it became quite apparent that they are in place in order to sweep communities of color under the rug and make way for white development. Injunctions generally ban people from being out later than 10:00 pm, walking in a group of three or more, carrying cell phones or pagers, and signaling to a vehicle among other things. On top of the potential 10 year California gang enhancement, many residents in the Pico Union area may find themselves locked up for over a decade for waving to their child on a school bus. They also spoke about how these injunctions go hand in hand with gentrification, or the “redevelopment” of a neighborhood. This basically means ridding people of color from an area to make room for upscale whites unwilling to live among the Black and Brown. The organizer from Homies Unidos broke it down: gentrification usually starts with a new school, then a Starbucks, a McDonald’s, then a gang injunction, raised rents, and so forth, all of which are now present in Pico Union. Alex Sanchez’s work, on the other hand, was both a challenge to the injunction and gentrification since gang rehabilitation and peace treaties create healthy communities, not fractured ones. Broken communities have no structure; they fall apart and eventually fade away leaving plenty of developing space for expensive high rises and condominiums.

There are some sentiments of fear amongst the people being affected by all this attention, and COINTELPRO tactics of wiretapping and harassment are already in place for the activists of Homies Unidos. I was told that the RICO laws are being applied to the indictment, something that was used to break up mobsters back in the day. Now, if you are working for gang peace and living in the Pico Union area you too could find yourself in an unlucky situation for just about anything. A photo of a person lending money to a friend for the bus could potentially get them charged with racketeering, and there are more cameras per square mile in the Pico Union district than any other neighborhood in the country.

Aggressive politics against Alex Sanchez and Homies Unidos go beyond the Pico Union neighborhood. It has traditionally been in the pilgrim government’s nature to continue a 500 year old legacy of colonialism through its oppression of people of color, namely the indigenous people in question: Central Americans. In terms of Alex Sanchez, it is no mystery why the same charges are not happening to Father Greg Boyle, a gang peacemaker in East Los Angeles, since it is easier to incriminate a person of color by falsely labeling him/her as a gang member.

Similar tactics were used recently against the Black Riders Liberation Party, which focuses on squashing Black on Black violence in the community. Recently, after many months of struggle, the courts finally dismissed the gang enhancement aimed at the BRLP, although the trend of labeling gang peacemakers as gang members has now shifted toward Alex. The systematic deportation of undocumented Central Americans who find themselves in gangs also mimics the days in which American Indians were required to have documentation in order to leave reservations. In this case, however, many of the activists involved with Homies Unidos are sent back to Central America with a death sentence. In the past few years, six Homies Unidos activists have been murdered in Central America, the most recent being in Guatemala when a former director was killed a month after being deported. Alex’s case seems quite relevant when considering the politics of LAPD and Salvadoran police relations, as well as the murders of Homies Unidos activists, which continue to remain unsolved.

Alex’s brother commented that instead of locking him up, the city should be giving him an award for his work, since he’s doing what the police have not been able or willing to do. Instead, he is isolated without a set bail or an address, so even today on his birthday we cannot contact him. There is over one million dollars raised in funds to bring Alex back to his family while awaiting trial; there are already four donated homes that have been put up as collateral for bail; and former state senator Tom Hayden as well as Father Greg Boyle have already come out in support of Alex. When we finished speaking it was very apparent that there is still a feeling of hope growing out of the mass amount of support, and as long as people are being harassed for healing their communities, there will continue to be people like Alex.

As I left and waited for the bus this evening I commented to a Chicano teenager that it was taking forever. After a few minutes of exchanging profanity toward the city’s transport service, we began talking and he told me about his experiences in the gang life. Earlier on he had a near death experience with some enemies and the police had prevented him from getting on the last bus passing through to his neighborhood. He now needed to catch another bus deep in an enemy’s territory and said he was worried about making it home shortly before he got off at his stop. While our children continue to murder each other, Alex Sanchez remains behind bars.

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