By Anand Vasu
Carlos Hernandez, a senior member of a Los Angeles-based Latino street gang called Big Hazard, was sentenced on March 23 to 16 years in federal prison for orchestrating and executing the night-time firebombing of African-American families at the Ramona Gardens Housing Development in Boyle Heights in 2014, in order to force the residents out of their homes.
Ramona Gardens is a public housing development in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
Hernandez pleaded guilty to five felony counts in 2019, according to a Justice Department release. Judge Snyder, who delivered the sentence, said that she hoped the punishment would send a message to the community that hate crimes would not be tolerated.
On May 11, 2014, coincidentally Mother’s Day, Hernandez led a gang of eight, all members of Big Hazard, in a plan to firebomb apartments in the complex.
They specifically targeted homes that were inhabited by African-Americans. Every gang member was assigned a specific role, and provided with a mask to conceal identity, and either a hammer or a lighter to carry out the attack.
They also took precautions to avoid being tracked by law enforcement, choosing a route that evaded CCTV cameras, and stashing their mobile phones before carrying out their action.
The attack was made all the more deadly by the fact that Hernandez armed himself with a semi-automatic handgun.
Once the attackers reached the pre-selected apartments, they broke windows using hammers so that the firebombs had un-obstructed access to the interiors of the homes.
Three of the four apartments into which lit Molotov cocktails were thrown were occupied by African American families.
In one instance, a mother who was sleeping with her infant baby on her chest at the time of the attack just managed to evade being hit by a firebomb, by rolling off the couch with her baby after hearing a window shatter.
All of the defendants involved in the incident were charged in 2016 and have since pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and related offenses.
They also admitted that they participated in the firebombing attacks because of the victims’ race and color and with the intent to force the victims to move away from the federally funded housing complex.
Prior to Hernandez’s sentencing, the others had already received their punishments. Jose Saucedo (aka “Lil Mo”) got 13 years, Josue Garibay (aka “Malo”) got 12 years, Jonathan Portillo (aka “Pelon”) got five years and three months, Francisco Farias (aka “Bones”) got three-and-a-half years, and Edwin Felix (aka “Boogie”) got seven years and eight months.
“The defendant planned, coordinated, and led these racially-motivated attacks that targeted vulnerable families, including grandparents and infants, while they were sleeping peacefully in their own homes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, referring to Hernandez after his sentencing. “The Justice Department will continue to prioritize the prosecution of hate-fueled violence.”
The Big Hazard street gang was ordered to carry out the action by the Mexican Mafia prison gang, Hernandez claimed in court filings. Big Hazard, also known as Hazard Grande, is a Hispanic-American gang that originated in the Boyle Heights neighbourhood in Los Angeles. They dominated the Ramona Heights housing projects which were built during World War II. The gang is known to have s history of violence against African Americans.