By Joseph Orosco
The protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the past month have captured the nation’s attention, including many commentaries on the Anarres blog. The on going tension draws attention to various issues: continued racial inequality and white supremacy in the United States, and increasing militarization of civilian police forces across the country. Javier Cervantes, in guest column this week, refers to an epidemic of police violence against communities of color in the United States.
Today is the 44th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium rally against the Vietnam War. On August 29, 1970, some 30,000 people gathered in East Los Angeles in what would be one of the largest demonstrations in history against US militarism in South East Asia.
The Moratorium ended in bloodshed because of the police reaction that day. Responding to reports of a robbery in the area, LA County law enforcement approached the peaceful rally, which included speakers and cultural events such as children’s folk dancing, in riot gear and with tear gas. A stampede erupted and police descended on the crown with battons, beating men and women randomly. Four people were killed and more than 150 arrested. Buildings were burned all throughout the area. This short documentary displays the police riot, using footage live from the attack and the aftermath.
One of the people killed was the LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar, one of the first prominent Mexican American reporters with a national audience. Salazar had garnered a reputation in describing the concerns of the Mexican American community of the Southwest and with his death many felt silenced. He was killed when the police launched a tear gas canister directly into a bar from the sidewalk. The canister shot all the way to the back of the bar and sheared off Salazar’s head. Some believe that the police knew Salazar was in the bar; no one was ever prosecuted for the homicide. (This year there will be a special ceremony in Los Angeles to commemorate Salazar, including a showing of the documentary about his life and work.)
Some people complain that voices of anger coming out of Ferguson help no one. But peaceful voices, speaking in dissent in 1970, received the same aggressive reaction. What is clear from the story of the Chicano Moratorium riot, and the news from Ferguson, is that there not only an epidemic of police violence in our country, there is a history of violent police response to the grievances of communities of color; it now just come with more precise weaponry and equipment.