The National Chicano Moratorium
Digital History ID 612
On August 29, 1970 more than twenty thousand Mexican Americans marched in East Los Angeles to protest the war in Vietnam and the disproportionately high casualty rate of Chicano troops. Among American soldiers from the Southwest, nearly twenty percent of the casualties were among Mexican Americans, almost twice their proportion of the population. Demonstrators also protested against the denial of equal rights at home. At rally at Laguna Park was disrupted when 1,500 police officers shot tear-gas canisters into the crowd. Three Mexican Americans were killed; more than four hundred were arrested. Among the dead was a Los Angeles Times columnist, Rúben Salazar, who was killed by a tear-gas projectile.
This incident had far-reaching consequences. It led many Mexican American activists to focus on the issue of police brutality and unequal justice.
In this selection, Rubén Salazar explains to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights why many Mexican Americans distrust law enforcement.
Justice is the most important word in race relations. Yet too many Mexican Americans in the Southwest feel with David Sanchez, Los Angeles Brown Beret leaders, that "to Anglos justice means 'just us.'"
La Ley or the Law, as Mexican Americans call the administration of justice, takes forms that anglos--and even Negroes--never have to experience. A Mexican American, though a third-generation American, for instance, may have to prove with documents that he is an American citizen at border crossings, while a blue-eyed blond German immigrant, for example, can cross by merely saying "American."
Besides the usual complaints made by racial minorities about police brutality and harassment, Mexican Americans have an added problem: sometimes they literally cannot communicate with the police....
One of the many reasons a Mexican American cannot relate well to la Ley is that he doesn't see many of his own in positions of authority serving on agencies which administer justice. The 1960 census indicated that Mexican Americans represent about 12 percent of the Southwest's population. In 1968, only 7.4 percent of the total uniformed personnel in law-enforcement agencies in the Southwest were Mexican Americans.... Only ten law-enforcement agencies are headed by Mexican Americans and eight of these are in communities of less than ten thousand in population.
(A commission study of the grand-jury system of twenty-two California counties concluded that discrimination against Mexican Americans in juror selection is "as severe--sometimes more severe--as discrimination against Negroes in grand juries in the South.")...
A commission staff report said that "one of the most common complaints (throughout the Southwest) was that Anglo juvenile offenders were released to the custody of their parents and no charges are brought, while Mexican American youths are charged with offenses, held in custody, and sent to a reformatory."...
The commission's report further stated that it is felt throughout the Southwest that "the most serious police harassment involves interference with attempts by Mexican Americans to organize themselves in order to assert their collective power."
To the advocates of brown or Chicano power, the Texas Rangers, or Los Rinches, are symbols of this repression.... At the time of the hearing, there were sixty-two Texas Rangers, none of them Mexican Americans....
Farm workers, labor organizers, and civil-rights workers testified before the commission that the Texas Rangers break agricultural-worker strikes in the Rio Grande Valley through force and intimidation. The unionization of farm workers is seen as a holy war in Texas, where farm hands get no workmen's compensation, no state minimum wage, no unemployment and disability insurance, and where there are no mandatory standards in farm-worker housing. (In contrast, California requires by law all of these things.)...
Pete Tijerina, executive director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, had noted that the U.S. Attorney General had intervened on behalf of Negro cases throughout the South, but that "not once, not once, has the Attorney General...intervened in any Mexican American case."...
Source: Strangers in One's Land, Publication No. 19. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Clearinghouse. May 1970.
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