HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) - Racially motivated attacks by gangs on black teenagers has created a "toxic environment" that forced families out of a California city and has left at least one teenager dead, said attorneys for the families of several teens.
The attorneys said Wednesday that the December 2007 fatal shooting of 14-year-old Vernon Eddins in front of his middle school in Union City and another recent incident at a Hayward mall were not isolated incidents, but part of a pattern of violence and persecution of black teenagers by a local Hispanic gang.
Vernon's death is cited in three pending lawsuits - two in federal courts, and one in state court - accusing the police, schools and school officials of failing to stop the attacks and protect the teenagers.
A federal judge with the Northern District of California indicated on Wednesday the plaintiffs may proceed with their attempt to certify a class action for one of the federal suits filed on behalf of 10 youths and their families against the Union City police department and others.
"Vernon was the one who fell," said Pamela Price, an attorney representing plaintiffs in two of the suits. "All these children were targets."
The suit filed in state court names the New Haven School District and school officials as defendants. The second federal suit was filed on behalf of Vernon's mother, Angelique Paige, against Union City, the school district, and others.
Price said there were at least 10 incidents of attacks against black teenagers since Vernon's death. As an example of the alleged gang members' lack of fear for law enforcement, she cited messages left on the social network site MySpace that use obscenities and racial epithets to refer to Vernon.
Messages left for the Union City mayor and for the school district were not immediately returned.
The police department released a statement saying that although they cannot comment on the specifics of the litigation while it is pending, they have attempted to address the issue by establishing a youth violence prevention program and by working with community organizations.
"Youth violence is an area-wide issue not respecting municipal boundaries," said a statement prepared by police Capt. Kevin Finnerty.
Their efforts have clearly have not been sufficient, said Price.
Several of her clients have moved their children to other school districts to try to protect them from the violence, she said.
"They have been discouraged from filing reports and told, 'This is DeCoto territory,' and that they should leave," she said, referring to the Hispanic gang she named in connection to shootings.