LOS ANGELES – A gang member and a suspected associate were arrested Wednesday for a shooting that critically wounded a 6-year-old boy in an area where a Hispanic gang has targeted black victims, but police said it wasn't known if the attack was racially motivated. The victim, who is black, was on life support, the mayor said.
City leaders strongly asserted that they would not downplay an element of racial bias if it existed and they insisted that there has not been a serious increase in such crimes in Los Angeles.
Two Hispanic men, ages 25 and 26, were arrested around 5:30 a.m., only 17 hours after bullets were fired at a family of six driving through the Harbor Gateway area in a sport utility vehicle.
One of the men was a local gang member and the other was "probably an associate" of the gang, police Capt. William Hayes told a news conference. Neither man's name was released. They were to be booked for investigation of attempted murder, he said.
"We are very confident that we have the people who were involved in the actual shooting in custody," Police Chief William Bratton said. The handgun used in the crime had not been located.
The men also could face state or federal hate crime charges if it is determined that the shooting was racially motivated, the chief said.
The arrests "send a message that no crime in this city is acceptable and no indiscriminate shooting motivated by hate or gang intimidation will be tolerated," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
Officials said that although overall homicides are up so far this year, gang violence and gang-related homicides are down in the city. Still, Villaraigosa said, the violence throws "a cloak of fear" over communities.
The shooting occurred about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday when two Hispanic men standing along a road flashed gang signs at the family's vehicle and one pulled a gun and fired, police said.
One bullet struck the 6-year-old in the head.
The bullet could not be removed and the boy was in critical but stable condition "with obviously a life-threatening injury," Hayes said.
The mayor said he met with the boy's mother.
"I can tell you that there's almost nothing you can say to a mother whose boy is on life support," Villaraigosa said.
Also in the car were an 18-month-old child, a 3-year-old, a man and two women, one of whom was six months pregnant, authorities said. They were not wounded.
Police said the family didn't live in the area and was there to buy a car.
Witnesses to the shooting provided information that led to the arrest, police said.
On Tuesday, Bratton described the area as "under the influence of a Latino gang" and referred to a December 2006 gang attack in which a 14-year-old black girl was shot to death. Police alleged Cheryl Green was killed by members of a Hispanic gang intent on killing blacks following a confrontation between the gang members and a black man.
Two men have been charged with murder and hate crimes related to Green's death.
However, it was too early in the investigation to determine whether Tuesday's attack was racially motivated, Bratton said Wednesday.
Bratton and the mayor both said there had not been any recent increase in racially related violence.
"There is not that type of racial animosity in this city," Bratton said. "In a country where race is on the front page all the time, we do pretty well there."