Summary: Places Black Lives Matter and other anti-police brutality demonstrations in historical context — Editors
The world was exposed to the brutality and racism of American police this spring when police teargassed multiracial crowds of protesters who demanded justice over the police murder of George Floyd in over 100 US cities. We witnessed mass arrests of protesters during a global pandemic, where police put disproportionately non-White protesters in danger of contracting the dangerous coronavirus.
At the height of the protests the LAPD arrested over 2500 people who were charged with unlawful assembly or breaking curfew. This writer has been to many protests over the last 15 years, a few of which ended with police brutality, but police were never so quick to shoot rubber bullets at us as they were at protests that were disproportionately Black & Brown.
From the well-known killings of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, to recent killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we have seen police act time and time again with utter impunity to kill people of color — but Black people in particular — even in the face of mass protests. Native Americans also face the highest rates of police killings of any race but we hear less about them because they are 1% of the US population. We know that racist police violence is a systemic problem, but every police department has a history that has influenced why some brutalize and kill relatively more than others.
In June the LA Sheriff’s Department killed an 18-year-old Latino security guard named Andres Guardado while he was working. Sheriffs fired teargas at hundreds of demonstrators protesting against his killing that included many families outside the Compton Sheriff’s office. The police even threatened people from helicopters, saying they should leave lest their children be teargassed or hit with rubber bullets: “We don’t want to see your children hurt,” a police officer said from a helicopter. The FBI are now going to investigate Guardado’s killing.
Shockingly the LAPD killed 2 Latinos with the same name, Daniel Hernandez, just over a week apart and in incidents less than a mile from each other in April. 15 out of the 26 people who were shot by LAPD in 2019 were Latin@s. Latinos were 58% of people the LAPD shot while LA is 49% Latin@.
I recently looked back to some quotes that I had saved from a book about Chican@ history in Los Angeles that documented some of the most shocking police abuses that have shaped the county’s history. These quotes reveal that the rot has come from the top and is deeply rooted in LA police departments. Here are 6 of the most egregious incidents of police abuse against Chican@s in LA history as excerpted from passages of the book, Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles, by Rodolfo Acuña who is a Chicano Studies professor at Cal State Northridge.
1) An LA Sheriff’s Deputy in the 40s testified to a grand jury that Mexicans had an inherent desire to kill that led to the conviction of several young men:
“In 1942, Captain Ed Duran Ayres, chief of the Sheriff’s Bureau of International Relations, presented a report to a grand jury stating that Mexicans had an innate desire to kill, or at least to let blood; such characteristics were supposedly inherited from their Indian and Mexican pasts. The Ayres report, used in evidence during the infamous Sleepy Lagoon Case described in Chapter 6, helped to convict those defendants. It also served to justify a massive dragnet involving sheriff’s deputies, the LAPD and the California Highway Patrol that netted over 600 suspected gang members in August 1943.”(“Anything But Mexican”, 264.)
More information on the infamous Sleepy Lagoon Case:
2) In 1970 the LA Times’s most prominent Mexican-American journalist, Ruben Salazar, was murdered by LA Sheriffs while sitting in an East LA bar after covering the massive Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War. LA Sheriff Pitchess said after the death of Salazar and the beating of many other protestors, “Don’t forget these deputies were in combat.”
“Tensions between the sheriff’s deputies and the Chicano community were strained on the eve of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War; twenty-two people were arrested in front of the Belvedere substation for protesting the death of six inmates under mysterious circumstances at this facility in a five-month period. On 29 August 1970, sheriff’s deputies led the offensive against the 30,000 demonstrators peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. In the wake of that attack, which left three Chicanos dead, including Ruben Salazar, Sheriff Pitchess’s defense was, ‘Don’t forget these deputies were in combat.’ The sheriff’s department intended to keep a tight lid on the Chicano community and it took advantage of the occasion of the 16th of September parade that year to beat marchers.” (264-265.)
3) When Latin@ UCLA students struggled for a Chican@ Studies department the LAPD arrested 99 students and strip-searched 83 of them. The UCLA administration supported the arrests:
“For three years, students drew up proposals, lobbied faculty, held conferences and went through the system in an attempt to win establishment of a core Chicano Studies department…”
“When Chancellor Young finally announced his decision not to create a core department on the eve of Cesar Chavez ‘s funeral in 1993, and to cut back Chicano library funds, students immediately mobilized the community. Chicano politicos and community leaders petitioned Young…”
“The Concerned Students of Color (CSC), a recently formed coalition, held a rally on 11 May that ended in a takeover of the faculty center. The administration supported the arrest of ninety-nine students, eighty-three of whom were jailed and strip-searched. The overreaction by the administration created martyrs of the arrested students and galvanized support for a core Chicano studies department…” (P. 304-307)
4) A federal judge and jury ordered former LAPD Chief Gates to pay $170,000 for condoning police brutalityduring the trial of a family who had won monetary compensation for enduring police brutality. The same chief later said that casual drug users should be shot.
“For years the Los Angeles Police Department has been known for abusive conduct, especially towards Blacks and Latinos. Daryl Gates, its chief during the infamous beating of Rodney King, epitomized the LAPD attitude with a comment during a 1986 case. Six LAPD officers had crashed into the home of Jesse Lárez, purportedly searching for a weapon hidden by Lárez’s son Edward. Officers smashed windows, pulled his daughter, Diane, onto the floor by her hair, destroyed household items, and broke the senior Lárez’s nose in their search for a weapon they never found. Much later, in October 1988, federal district court jurors awarded the Lárez family $90,503 in damages. Upon hearing the federal jury’s verdict against his officers, Gates told reporters that Lárez was ‘probably lucky’ that they only broke his nose, adding, ‘How much is a broken nose worth?’”
“US District Judge Robert M. Takasugi was incensed by Gates’s remarks, and allowed them to be entered into the record during the second phase of the trial, which sought to determine if Gates had condoned the tactics used by his officers. The jury agreed and ordered Gates to pay more than $170,000 in punitive damages. The Los Angeles City Council voted to pay the judgment against the chief, with a council member remarking that Gates’s comments had been made ‘in the scope of his employment’…”
“In 1990, Gates declared that casual drug users ‘ought to be taken out and shot.’ On another occasion, he denounced Salvadorans as ‘drunks’, and gang members as the ‘new barbarians.’ Gates’s public pronouncements and style of leadership clearly set the tone for the department and encouraged his officers to believe themselves the ‘thin blue line’ defending ‘American’ civilization.” (271-272)
5) An LAPD officer lived with an activist for seven years and had a child with her in order to spy on her friends. At least two undercover LAPD officers spied on Chicano Studies classes at CSUN and the Chicano student group, MEChA there. The “Intelligence Division” also handed over files on left-wing activist to right-wing organizations.
“Throughout the 1970s and 1980s police authorities spied on community organizations, attempting to frustrate efforts for social change. As a result, in 1978 the American Civil Liberties Union filed The Committee Against Police Abuse v. Los Angeles Police Department on behalf of 141 plaintiffs, including individuals and groups. The legal discovery process revealed extensive police spying. In one case, a police officer lived with a plaintiff for seven years and had a child with her so as to spy on her friends. Surveillance of Left groups such as the California State University, Northridge chapter of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan (MEChA) and the Chicano Studies Department at that institution was common. At least two LAPD officers, Augie Moreno and Jose Ramirez infiltrated MEChA and took Chicano Studies classes. The Police Department’s Intelligence Division (PDID) even turned over files on individuals to the Western Goals Foundation, an ultra-right-wing group.”
“The city spent millions of dollars in tax funds to defend the PDID, which police tried to portray as an anti-terrorist unit. As part of the final settlement, the PDID was officially dissolved in January 1983. But its clone, the Criminal Intelligence Division, continued functioning until July 1992, when Chief Willie I. Williams ordered the offices of that division closed and its files sealed, amid allegations that the unit had continued the PDID’s work of spying on politicians and community organizations.”(263)
6) Finally, during the Justice for Janitors worker’s campaign, 150 LAPD officers beat up immigrant janitors and led two women to miscarry. (The janitors won their union campaign in the end!)
“On 15 May 1990, one hundred and fifty armed officers confronted a group of peacefully demonstrating janitors and their protestors. Knowing full well that most of the demonstrators spoke only Spanish, the LAPD gave the order to disperse in English. The police riot that followed resulted in forty arrests and sixteen injuries, with two women having miscarriages as a result of being beaten.
The brutality of the LAPD brought attention to the strike and sent home the message that there would be no peace until a contract was signed. Angelenos were horrified at seeing protestors mercilessly clubbed to the ground by LA’s finest. It was clear to everyone that the authorities wanted to teach immigrant workers a lesson: The Century City police attack was as vicious as the Rodney King beatings a year later. The Janitors filed suit against the LAPD and in September 1993, they settled for $2.35 million, though many observers believed the settlement was too low.” (185-186)