Erosion of the Latin Kings (electronic supplement)

One of the revelations from the racketeering trial of the North Carolina Latin Kings, the aftermath of which is the subject of this week's YES! Weekly cover story, is just how fragile the organization was.

Statewide leader Jorge Cornell's tribe in Greensboro rarely had more than five active members. This August 2010 photograph of the group provides a snapshot of an organization suffering from constant attrition, and the current status of the individuals pictured reflects their vulnerability to pressure from law enforcement and the justice system.

Front, left to right:

1. Charles Moore, AKA King Toastie — pleaded guilty to racketeering and agreed to cooperate with government, testified against fellow Latin Kings members for government

2. Vanessa Thorpe-Davis — ceased active association with the Greensboro tribe prior to December 2011 indictment

3. Wesley Williams, AKA King Bam — fled to New Jersey in late 2010, pleaded guilty to racketeering and agreed to cooperate with government, was not called to testify

4. Richard Robinson, AKA King Focus — pleaded guilty to racketeering and agreed to cooperate with government, testified against fellow Latin Kings members for government

Back, left to right:

5. Rev. Randall Keeney — not a Latin King, testified for defense, continues a friendship with Jorge Cornell

6. Jorge Cornell, AKA King Jay — convicted of three counts of racketeering, faces 50 years in federal prison

7. Luis Rosa, AKA King Speechless — pleaded guilty to racketeering and agreed to cooperate with government, testified against fellow Latin Kings members for government

Reaction to verdict

Reporting for this cover story also highlights the depth of the Latin Kings' engagement with other social justice causes. Throughout the past four years, the Latin Kings have marched in support of immigrant farmworkers, supported women facing eviction from public housing and provided security for young dreamers seeking a halt to deportations, to name a few acts of solidarity.

Some community members with whom I spoke on background for this story suggested that the Latin Kings' relationship with the larger Latino community was only superficial and their social activism was somewhat self-serving. Statements I received from Viridiana Martinez, Justin Flores and LaTonya Stimpson — the latter two came after our deadline and were not incorporated into the story — suggest otherwise.

Flores, a organizer with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, said the Latin Kings have offered their support since the two groups met at the Black/Brown Unity Conference in Greensboro in 2008. He said he was disappointed to learn about the convictions, and hopeful that they will be reversed on appeal.

"People have a reaction seeing guys with baggy clothes and colors and tattoos," Flores said. "As far as we're concerned, they're allies supporting our work. When we met and had conversations they were very supportive.

"The image could be an issue to some people," he continued. "People who are interested in supporting farmworkers — we want to work with anyone who's on the same page. What Jay and the Kings can do — there's lots of people involved in gangs that nobody's reaching out to. I think it's a positive thing for [the Latin Kings] to be reaching out to them and not abandoning them, to be exposing them to positive ways to improve their situation and exposing them to social justice work. I think that should be respected instead of shunned."

LaTonya Stimpson, a former resident of JT Hairston Memorial Apartments, said the Latin Kings were present at the public housing community for several weeks in 2010 when she and other residents were facing evictions. Stimpson said there were several people claiming to be Bloods and Crips in Hairston apartments and nearby Smith Homes, but she was unaware of any friction between those groups and the Latin Kings.

"To sum it all up, they basically — I don't know how to say — they basically brought attention and awareness to the problem that many women face... in place of the men we can't have living with us," Stimpson said. "They stood in place of us not having men to back us in this eviction situation."

As a public housing resident who earned a reputation as a troublemaker because of her willingness to challenge the property management company at Hairston apartments, Stimpson has had a testy relationship with local law enforcement.

"It's a dangerous situation," Stimpson said. "It seems like the cops are coming after anyone that is affiliated with those people [the Latin Kings]. It seems like everything they're doing is perfect. I trust them more than I trust the Greensboro Police Department. The only thing I can come to a conclusion of is the Greensboro Police Department don't like that because they have a better chance of resolving some of the community problems that we have and serving the community."

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