August in Laguna Park: The Chicano Moratorium, Part 2 By Roselva Rushton Ungar

27 May

Part 2 of 2

When we finally made it back [to the park], I pulled into the driveway closest to the first aid station. Marilyn got out to get the injured, while I waited with the car. An officer came up and ordered me out. I explained that I was waiting to take the wounded to a hospital. He shouted, “This is for police cars only; now get out!” I backed up onto Eastern Avenue from where I was able to see what was happening. I saw two young people shoved into a police car. Near the gym, an officer was dragging a young man by his long hair and thrusting him against a car. He could not have gotten into the park by this time unless he had been in the building. I had not seen policemen enter the park buildings before.

I saw two policemen rush across the street toward a man who had been pushed  down on the sidewalk by another cop. He jammed his club with great force into the man’s groin from the rear. The people standing around yelled, “Leave him alone.” The wounded man dragged himself into a nearby house while several policemen ran after him and forced the door open. I was just opposite where this was happening. I think an officer on my side of the street must have been upset that I witnessed this brutality because he shouted at me, “Get out!”  I pretended that he was ordering me to get out of the middle of the street, so I backed into an empty space just behind where I had double-parked. Worried that Marilyn hadn’t yet returned, I got out of the car to see what was holding her up. The same officer screamed, “Get back in the car!” I complied, heart in mouth.  Marilyn returned but with only one fellow. The rest had already managed to leave because it had taken us so long. The doctor escorted the wounded youth to my car and asked me to check Belvedere Park nearby for any lost or hurt people before leaving the east side of town.ChicanoMoratorium.BrownBerets

Leaving was very difficult; officers would not allow us down the side streets. We didn’t want to attempt Whittier Boulevard where confrontations were still taking place. We drove many blocks in a round-about way, seeing fires, smoke, broken glass, people distraught and bewildered. Police cars, sirens blaring, raced by. Marilyn screamed as a speeding police car came straight at us. Terrified, I pulled over to the curb just in time. By now I was very anxious to get out of the battle zone. We deposited the wounded man at White Memorial Hospital, then drove by Belvedere Park. No one needed us there. Mission accomplished, we wanted to quickly get away from the eerie unreality of it all.

It became apparent that battle lines were drawn between the sheriff deputies and the young people of the march. Later we learned that the melee had started with an altercation at a liquor store at the back of the park. Why couldn’t a small detachment of police have tactically and rapidly settled whatever problem had existed at the liquor store across the street from the park? Why couldn’t that have been contained so as not to disturb the anti-war rally in the park? It looked suspiciously like an excuse to break up the rally.

ChicanoMoratorium.PoliceAttack

What a contrast to the festive spirit before the police swept everyone out of the park, gassing and clubbing as they moved in. Such hostility this creates in the community! Whatever wrong-doing may have occurred before the police arrived was nothing compared to the violence that occurred after their invasion. The very presence of the police provokes this community, but when they come in the hundreds and bear down on innocent people enjoying freedom of speech in the park, hatred and resistance is aroused. Must any small insult become a challenge or excuse to beat and gas hundreds of people? The people must be subdued because they are unfriendly? What arrogance!

The police in the barrio do not provide the community service and protection they do in middle-class communities. They are an invading enemy out to terrorize and subject the people. They set off the violence that occurs when people who still have spirit and dreams are thwarted and driven to despair. The armed might of society is saying, You may not get together in the spirit of your own culture and aspirations. You may not question sending your young sons to die in Viet Nam for a country that gives you the least education, the poorest jobs, the worst places to live, strips you of your culture, your language, and prevents you from expressing yourselves collectively in your own communities.

Had the dignity and pride of being Latino or Chicano been allowed expression in the park and on the march, a constructive unity and dialogue about the war and solving the pressing problems of the barrio might have emerged, this free speech being the highest form of patriotism. Had this occurred, it is inconceivable that people, at the crest of their celebration of unity would have gone about burning and looting Whittier Avenue. The sheriffs drove them in rage from the park onto the streets. Many like ourselves scurried to find shelter and others, especially youths, gave vent to their wrath by retaliating.

When I got home and turned on the TV, I saw the war zone where I had been. I heard that a  driver, trying to cross the barricades as we were, was shot. That was when I began to shake. While in the midst of the destruction I had no such reaction; I was bent on a task. I understood now how soldiers in battle focus in the same way.

Altogether three people were killed that day.ChicanoMoratorium.LATimes

Ruben Salazar was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Spanish Television News Director, and a two-time winner of the Greater Los Angeles Press Club Award, along with other prizes. He was the first Mexican American journalist to cover the Chicano community from the mainstream media. He had come that day, with the L.A. Times photographer, to observe. After the rioting, he and the photographer went to rest at the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Avenue. A sheriff standing in the doorway shot a ten-inch gas projectile into the bar, which fatally struck Ruben Salazar in the head. That day there would be no respected, honorable Latino reporter writing about what really happened.

To this day many believe that his death was the premeditated assassination of a prominent, vocal member of the Chicano community. Ruben Salazar had written many articles critical of the government’s treatment of Chicanos, having come into conflict with the police during the 1968 East Los Angeles walk-outs protesting unequal treatment of students in the Los Angeles schools. According to FBI reports, the L.A. police considered him to be a dangerous radical. Why would an officer shoot into a peaceful bar if his mission were to stop violence along the street? There would be many questions, but no one there that day will ever forget—or forgive.

After that August 29th of 1970 Laguna Park was renamed Salazar Park.

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