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 downtown."

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.

On 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.

Kings 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.

The 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 political force.

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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Special features include complete interviews with Puerto Rican Revolutionary Richie Perez and King Tone.
DVD subtitles in Spanish.

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