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After an altercation between members of the Ebonies, a black teenage gang, and Buck Madison, leader of the white gang, the Royals, and his girl friend Wiggles, police lieutenant Robert Brooks of the juvenile division assigns rookies Frank Serano and Don Walters to infiltrate the gangs at Bailey Union High School. Frank is of mixed Mexican and African-American heritage, while Don is white. At the school, a social science teacher assigns Lola Montalvo and Frank to be partners in a debate arguing that racial hatred is a mark of ignorance. Although Lola snubs Frank at first, they begin to study together, which provokes her brother Manuel, leader of the Mexican-American gang, the Caballeros, to warn Frank to keep away from Lola. Aided by gang, Manuel beats up Frank as he leaves the library with Lola. When Lola's father learns about the attack, he reprimands her for sneaking off to meet blacks and for "making eyes at Anglos." Papa, though, tries to convince Manuel to learn tolerance, but Manuel bitterly blames the death of his white mother on the fact that her family would not speak to her after she married Papa. When Buck approaches Manuel about joining forces to sell marijuana in the "spic" market, they have a scuffle, and Manuel loses a religious necklace, which Buck pockets. Meanwhile, Frank speaks with Satchel, the leader of the Ebonies, about joining, but Satchel refuses because Frank is half-Mexican. After Buck tries to kiss Lola in the school hallway, Frank trips Buck, who calls him a "dirty nigger," but their fight is interrupted by a school official. During a party, Buck buys drugs from a white racist named Elliott, who has urged Buck to sell the drug in the Mexican neighborhood. Elliott, who wants to stir up trouble between the Ebonies and the Caballeros, tells Buck about Lola's secret love affair with a member of the Royals, Jimmy Wallace. After Brooks and a black narcotics officer raid the party, Buck's cohort Muscles accuses Jimmy of calling the police, and they take him to a deserted railroad yard. There, Jimmy falls onto a spike as he struggles with Buck and Muscles, and when Jimmy dies, Buck leaves Manuel's necklace near the body. After arresting Manuel, Brooks interrogates Lola, who blames Buck and determines to obtain evidence against him. When Lola presents her side of the racial question in class, she emphasizes the loss to society when people do not allow others to function as equals. After class, when Don asks Buck if he can join the Royals, and Buck sends Muscles to fight him at an abandoned lot. During the fight, Don convinces Muscles, who is unhappy with Buck, to join him in a drug deal. Frank trails Lola to a doctor's office, and when she leaves dejectedly, he tends to her and surmises that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Buck has given Satchel's little brother George and his friends some marijuana cigarettes. When Frank and Lola find George, sick from the drugs, Frank carries him to Satchel. In back of Gabby's Grill, the Royals' hangout, Buck and his gang interrogate one of the Ebonies responsible for the attack on Buck and Wiggles. When the captive retorts that Wiggles is black, Buck becomes enraged. He rips open the gang member's shirt, slops white paint over him and declares that they are "integrating" him. Later, Buck insults Wiggles, and after she becomes hysterical, he propositions Lola in front of her. Lola accepts and the gang go to a party at the home of Winnie, a rich boy who is trying get into the gang. At the party, Buck attempts to take Lola into a bedroom, but is interrupted when Elliott arrives. Meanwhile, Lola's little brother Rudy, who has learned she is in trouble, is stopped by George when he runs through the black neighborhood on his way to ask the Caballeros for help. Upon learning that Rudy is trying to help Lola, George tells Satchel, who gathers together the Ebonies. Meanwhile, Manuel, who has been released from jail, assembles the Caballeros. After Elliott sells drugs to Buck, he privately meets with Muscles and Don and agrees to return with more drugs for them to buy. Frank, who has learned Winnie's address from Wiggles, sneaks in a window and tries to get Lola to leave. When Papa, who has tracked down Lola after learning of her pregnancy, arrives, Lola confesses it is Jimmy's baby and accuses Buck of murdering him. Buck, however, blames Muscles, and as Muscles runs out, Don identifies himself as a police officer. As Elliott returns carrying a gun, the black and Mexican gangs arrive and agree to fight together against the Royals. Brooks and the narcotics officer then arrive and break up the brawl. While the officer is capturing Elliott, Frank throws Buck through a window, then bandages his injuries. After Brooks castigates the gang for not considering members of other races as human beings, Frank takes Lola home and they admit that they need each other.