Arrest of Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Raises Questions, Concerns in Community

June 25, 2009


Today’s FBI arrest of Alex Sanchez, one of the most respected gang intervention leaders in the country, has raised major concerns in Los Angeles and around the country. As his wife and children watched, Sanchez, who leads Homies Unidos, a violence prevention and gang intervention organization with offices in Los Angeles and El Salvador, was arrested and taken away by FBI agents this morning at his home in Bellflower. The federal charges- being a “shotcaller (someone who manages narcotics operations) for Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, an MS member shot and killed in El Salvador in 2006- have raised fears and great concerns among the many who’ve known and worked with Sanchez over the years, including myself.

First and foremost among the concerns in the community are concerns for Alex’s immediate safety. As a former gang member who works to help others leave gang life, Alex faces great danger in whatever LA County facility he’s held in-even if he’s put under Protective Custody (PC). Law enforcement authorities have an axe of historic proportions (see Rampart scandal) to grind against Alex and some have demonstrated a lethal propensity towards retribution. Known as “Pecetas”, those held under PC are considered by many gang members to be informants and, therefore, legitimate targets for direct retribution from gang members -and direct and indirect retribution from police.

For more reasons than I have time to enumerate here, I for one do not believe the charges. Rather, I think that these recent accusations are but the most recent in the long, rotten chain of attempts by law enforcement officials to frame Alex, who was regularly beaten, framed, falsely arrested, deported and harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department since founding Homies Unidos in 1998. First and foremost, I spent the evening calling those who know and have worked most closely with him, and they ALL share that sense that, as one of his best friends told me, “He really is a good person.” I’ve known him for years and will be sending a strongly worded support letter like the many I’ve sent over the course of the many years and many frame-ups law enforcement has ravenously pursued. Those close to Homies and Alex know and are again feeling that cloud of anger and concern that comes with being harassed by authorities abusing the power delegated to them.

Also, Alex is alleged to have conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, who sources in the Salvadoran and gang communities tell me had, in the words of one gang expert interviewed, “many, many enemies in the U.S.-and El Salvador.” While most of charges levelled against most of the the 24 other plaintiffs point to physical acts and evidence, the one and most serious indictment (see full indictment here) naming Alex alleges that he participated in “a series of phone conversations” in which the possibility of killing Lacinos is discussed. No proof is offered to corroborate the charges relating to managing narcotics operations for MS.

Lastly, the sensationalistic judgements of many media and some law enforcement officials raise serious concerns, as well. Close scrutiny of the media coverage reveals an definite disposition to judge and convict Alex before his trial even begins. For example, almost all of the coverage follows uncritically the logic laid out in the indictment. No attempt is made to notice that, for example, Alex is not named in most of the 66-page indicment. Other plaintiff’s names appear throughout. Those reading reporting in the LA Times and other outlets might come away believing that Alex might be involved in the murder of seven people or in conspiring to kill another 8. Consider this note from today’s LA Times:

The arrests cap a three-year investigation into the gang and its cliques, which operated in the Lafayette Park area, west of downtown. Among the most serious allegations contained in a 16-count federal indictment unsealed today was the claim gang members conspired to murder veteran LAPD gang officer Frank Flores.

Those named in the indictment include Alex Sanchez, a nationally recognized anti-gang leader and executive director of Homies Unidos.

Notice how there’s zero attempt to clarify or give greater context to Alex’s story, even though he headlines most of these stories. Even worse is the way that law enforcement authorities like L.A. Police Chief Bill Bratton, who the Times tells us has a big “I told you so” for the city, use Alex’s case to build the case for punitive-and failed-anti-gang policies,

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton said the Sanchez case reinforces the thinking behind the city’s efforts to consolidate and more strongly regulate anti-gang funding.

Bratton is no stranger to racially charged policing policies in New York or in Los Angeles (ie; Bratton was roundly repudiated when he first tried to apply the “terrorist” frame to L.A. gangs). Neither he nor any other L.A. official has accepted responsibility for helping create Mara Salvatrucha in L.A. and El Salvador, a country with no previous history of gangs before LAPD collaborated with immigration authorities to deport Mara members. Adding fuel to the fire burning to replace the anti-gang work of Homies Unidos with more punitive, law enforcement-centered approaches favored by Bratton and his, boss, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are reports like this one which have begun a non-profit and politico witch hunt even before Alex has seen a single day in court. Rather than look more deeply into the charges, media, political and police personalities appear bent on assuming Alex’s guilt and then waving this alleged guilt as if it’s a flag at the front of the contemporary equivalent of a witch hunt.

Although the story of Alex Sanchex touches upon people and issues-immigrants, gangs, Salvadorans- that are explained-and dealt with- simplistically, dangerously, the leadership of Los Angeles must speak out in defense not just of Alex, but of a fundamental principal of a just society: that you are innocent until proven otherwise.

Much more on this important issue in weeks and days to come.

17 Responses to “Arrest of Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Raises Questions, Concerns in Community”

  1. Davey D Says:

    Thanks for the info.. Alex is good peoples.. we consider him family. We are reposting your excellent article up on our site. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help..

    • robvato Says:

      Thanks for cross-posting, Davey. Right now, the big push is to get letters of support to his lawyers so that he can be released on bail. that will then allow a broad defense strategy to be articulated. More to follow here soon. Saludos,


  2. […] source=… […]

  3. conatz Says:

    Thanks for the info, I remember finding out about Alex back in 2000 or so as a teenager in the midwest and admiring his work.

  4. Onita Morgan-Edwards Says:

    Sounds like…
    1. LAPD may be mad that other folks are able to do their job better than they;
    2. If you leave the gang-bangers to kill themselves, you continue to the billion dollar businesses which include, but are not limited to (in no particular order)corrections, re-entry, black-market firearms, mortuary/funeral homes, some segments of the fashion industry (be they Dickies or Coogi), etc., etc., etc.

  5. Jose Lopez - Help Our Kids Says:

    Alex Sanchez, respected by whom? Why is it we use these terms “well respected”, “interventionist”. Often these names are given to people by others who don’t live in the community and don’t live with the problems. In good conscious believing they are helping the situation. Alex never left the gang, if he did he would have automatically been ostracized, seen a threat or trader. Someone who can rat out all his old homeboys for all the things they did together or even knew about. Yet Alex still walked around his own gang neighborhood without a problem. I’ve never heard of Alex turning in one of his MS 13 homeboys for any of the dozens of murders over the past ten years. Never heard of Alex trying to assist the families of these victims murdered by MS 13 members. As a father and kid who grew up in Los Angeles the last person my parents or I would ever want our kids to be around is a gang member. The silent majority echoes the same..Our kids need good professional role models not so called ex-gang bangers who can only give a bad life example and tell the tale of how they got out…This is so old and played out!
    Even the poorest neighborhoods have produced great role models, teachers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, musicians…people who work day to day living a honest good existence with no fanfare..this is what our kids need examples of how they can succeed no matter the circumstance. With the bad economic times…we cannot afford to spend money on unproven self proclaimed interventionist…Instead lets support those who have always been the most involved with our kids outside the home…TEACHERS!!! Yes, educated, dedicated, who are already in place, which have been screened and have an interest in our kids success. Our kids are not experiments and we can ill afford more negative influences in their lives. Take a lesson from the Wealthy communities….TEACHERS are paid well, Schools are up to date and education from day one is the most important…You don’t see them exposing their kids to so called ex-gang members for intervention or prevention work… Nothing is ever full proof but lets put our precious few dollars where they have always counted the most…and can go much farther…SCHOOL and TEACHERS, funding and having these programs at schools where an infrastructure already exist only makes sense…

    • robvato Says:

      Alex is respected by the hundreds of organizations and individuals who’ve written and who are still willing to write letters of support for another in the
      string of arrests, most of which were frameups. We’ll see with this one. Gladly, you are in the minority opinion.R

    • conatz Says:

      Not turning over people to the police, which is actually the biggest gang in Los Angeles, doesn’t mean someone is up to criminal activity. You’re also making many assumptions about the man, none of which you can back up with anything besides bloated rhetoric.

  6. […] reason why hundreds of his supports, locally and internationally, are standing by him during this challenging time. Today a meeting was held where his lawyer, Homies Unidos board members, and family members spoke so […]

  7. […] Roberto Lovato’s analysis on his Of América blog (excerpt below) and a subsequent post, “Why Was Alex Sanchez Arrested? Uprising Radio […]

  8. […] cited: WorldPress  Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner LA Times The Examiner ← The Vibe Is Gone via Sarah Wolfson, […]

  9. willcoley Says:

    Roberto, here’s video from yesterday’s press conference following the bail hearing:

  10. Doroteo Zapata Says:

    What will supporters say and do when these allegations are proven. Sounds like the Feds have Alex recorded on calls. Will people believe it then? Alex is in trouble and should do the right thing now and not diminish some of the good if any he has actually done. Homies Unidos must also seperate themselves professionally or go down with ship losing any credibility they may have left. Didn’t hear of any so called starts or heavy financial backers in the hearing. The truth will come out slowly and people will distance themselves . Alex obviously made some bad decisions and could not resist the draw of his old life and what it demands. Alex do the right thing and don’t betray those supporters you have left with more lies and the inevitable embarassment of being proven wrong. Do not betray the trust and hope they had in you any further..

    • robvato Says:

      You, Doroteo, seem to live in a country where a person is guilty until proven innocent, a country I do not and will not live in. You have the right to share in this space thoughts, I, for one,I find scary views about the nature of justice. Your inability to even consider that Alex may again, for the -what is it 4th-5th time?- be the object of some sort of law enforcement driven frameup is daunting. May you be wrong on all counts. And, nothing will change the history of lies, beatings, deportations, terror that Alex and his family have suffered at the hands of those who’s judgement you’re now putting your full faith and confidence in, those who have the privilege to cover their crimes under cover of a badge and uniform. Good luck, R

  11. […] Roberto Lovato points out, while charges against the other 23 defendants were backed by hard evidence, charges […]

  12. […] Roberto Lovato points out, while charges against the other 23 defendants were backed by hard evidence, charges […]

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