Cultures in Conflict

The neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in Washington, DC is urban America's future encapsulated in 50 city blocks. A multicultural blend of some 15,000 whites, Latinos, African Americans, and Asians, Mount Pleasant models the mixture of races and ethnicities that will constitute the typical 21st century American city. Poor Latinos and African Americans live adjacent to gentrified streets of middle-class whites and blacks. Korean, Vietnamese, and Cambodian shopkeepers serve recent immigrants from Central America, longer-term Latino and black residents from the Caribbean, and native Washingtonians.

But while the cultures exist side by side, there is little mixing. The social circles are to a large extent ethnically defined, and in the case of Latinos and some Asians, separated by language as well. As two nights of violence in Mount Pleasant this spring indicated, the cultural stew simmers much closer to the boiling point than most people were aware.

The Mount Pleasant riots began the evening of May 5 when a rookie black police officer, paired with another rookie, shot a Latino man she was arresting for public drinking. The rumor spread on the streets of a police "execution," and that the man who was shot -- Salvadoran immigrant Daniel Enrique Gomez, 30 -- was handcuffed at the time. The police maintain that Gomez had on only one cuff, lunged at the arresting officer with a knife, and was shot in self-defense.

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