As a state legislator Hayden was a leading proponent of gang peace efforts, including Homies Unidos, and testified for asylum in the Alex Sanchez case.
The indictment of Alex Sanchez, a revered gangbanger-turned-peacemaker, raises new doubts about whether the Los Angeles police department has reformed sufficiently to be released from a federal court order.
It also brings back strong memories in Los Angeles barrios of the Sleepy Lagoon case during war hysteria in 1942, when the LAPD and media helped railroad three young Mexican men into long murder sentences. The verdicts were later overturned and twelve defendants freed from prison. At the time, the lawyer and future Nation editor Carey McWilliams wrote that the case was a “ceremonial lynching.”
In more immediate terms, the Sanchez case repeats the history of a decade ago, when the same charges were hurled by the LAPD and a federal antigang task force, that Sanchez’s community-based violence prevention work was only a “front” for ties to Mara Salvatrucha, the feared immigrant street gang that arose after the 1970s Central American wars.
The Rampart scandal, named after a police precinct in the immigrant Pico-Union neighborhood, erupted in the late 1990s when a corrupt police officer, Rafael Pérez, began testifying to widespread police criminality after being caught selling cocaine out of his locker room. The US Justice Department charged a pattern and practice of constitutional violations, including shootings, brutality and planting of evidence. Sanchez was targeted for deportation by the LAPD and INS in January 2000, months after testifying publicly about police harassment of community peace workers. As the scandal mounted, federal prosecutors chose not to prosecute him for illegal entry to the US, where his 2-year old son and family lived, but turned the case over to an INS court. On July 10, 2002, the INS judge granted him political asylum, the first such verdict in history.
Since those days, Sanchez has built Homies Unidos, a transnational gang peace organization from the US to El Salvador. Its hazardous work centers on trying to prevent gang violence and open alternative paths for young people, including art therapy, spiritual exercises, education, rehabilitation, training and job development. Alex became a beloved figure in the community, making endless presentations before wider audiences around the country. His activity spawned enemies in the gang world, and never satisfied the LAPD and federal war-on-gangs units’ desire to retaliate against one who caused them unprecedented embarrassment.