MediaStorm: Intended Consequences by Jonathan Torgovnik
In 1994 the Latin Kings, the largest and most powerful street
gang in New York, became the Latin King and Queen Nation. They claim to
have abandoned their criminal past and to be following in the footsteps
of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords.
With over 3,000
members in New York, some saw the Nation as the most important
political movement to rise from the streets in decades. The NYPD did
not agree, calling it a vicious gang with a PR campaign....The Kings
and Queens shatter the racist cultural representation of urban youth
and provide us all with a hope for the human ability to escape an
oppressive political and economic system. Their voice needs to be heard
in this country. "My brothers and sisters. . . it's time to go
The Nation's story begins in Chicago in the 1940s when
the Latin Kings formed as a Latino self-defence group. Like the Black
Panthers, the Young Lords and so many other groups that struggle for
political empowerment, the Latin Kings were broken as a movement. They
lost touch with their roots and grew into one of the largest and most
infamous criminal gangs in America.
In 1994, after an internal
political shake-up and in the face of an increasingly racist political
culture and an escalation in police violence, the New York Latin Kings
became the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. The Kings and Queens
realized that they had become part of the problem in their communities;
that they were playing out roles scripted for them by a racist social
and economic structure. The Nation broke with its criminal past and
attempted to transform into a grass-roots political group working in
the poor Latino sections of New York.
Informed by the example
of the Young Lords and the Black Panthers, the Nation organized against
an oppressive status quo that encourages street violence. The New York
Kings and Queens were on the front lines of the fight to keep drugs out
of the poor sections of the city. They ran a day care program,
organized classes on Latino history and culture, registered voters in
underrepresented districts, helped kids find jobs, protested police
brutality, marched against education funding cuts, demonstrated for
AIDS research, and mobilized against the growth of the prison
industrial complex. Most importantly, they provided a positive,
empowering example around which Latino youth can construct their
identity and their difference.
After its transformation, the
Nation took a leading role in the protests against police brutality. In
1995 the Nation formed an alliance with the Mothers Against Police
Brutality and was instrumental in the arrest and trial of Officer
Livoti for the choking death of Anthony Baez. Their discipline and
their ability to put thousands of marchers in the streets has made them
a target for harassment they never experienced as a criminal
organization. In the face of reactionary media coverage and a string of
arrests on charges ranging from spitting on the sidewalk to illegal
assembly, the Nation held together in its resistance to a condition
that produces more criminals than political organizers.
Thursday, May 15 at 4:30 am, an army of 1,000 FBI agents raided the
homes of Kings and Queens throughout the city, arresting 100 members.
"Operation Crown" was the largest "anti-gang" action since prohibition.
According to the police commissioner it was designed to "dismantle the
command structure" of the Nation. In all of the houses raided in what
was supposed to be the largest "gang take-down" in history, the FBI and
the NYPD found 2 pounds of marijuana, no guns and no hard drugs.
and Queens had their bale set from a quarter of a million dollars up to
385,000 dollars for King Tone. Most of the charges will never stand up
in court, but the purpose of the raid was obvious: to take the
leadership out of circulation while their trials are pending. In spite
of the police's attempt to distort the Nation's image, leaders in the
African American and Latino community rallied around the Kings and
Queens, and Tone was bailed out the Monday after his arrest.
story of the Latin Kings and Queens is a story of empowerment and
self-transcendence. The Nation rolled 3,000 deep in New York City. Most
of its members are kids in their teens and early twenties who come from
the Bronx and Washington Heights, from the poor Latino sections of
Queens and Brooklyn. They go through school systems that expect them to
fail, are raised in a culture that represents them as violent criminals
or welfare cheats and live in neighborhoods where there are no jobs and
they are forced into an underground economy to survive. They are
socially and economically branded for poverty, crime and prison. In the
face of these overwhelming odds and violent police repression, the
Kings and Queens have escaped the identity enclosure that the system
has created for them and have become a progressive cultural and
The Kings and Queens are a compelling example
of people empowering themselves by organizing collectively. They built
a community across the lines of identification that work to divide and
disempower us. They were not broken by massive opposition from the
media and the government. The Kings and Queens shatter the racist
cultural representation of urban youth and provide us all with a hope
for the human ability to escape an oppressive political and economic
system. Their voice needs to be heard in this country.
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