In California Dreamin', the Mamas and the Papas sang of their longing on a winter’s day, to be safe and warm in L.A.
The tune launched the group, which became a defining voice in 1960's counterculture. Say the Mamas and the Papas time-traveled to 2020 and joined #BlackLivesMatter. Might they sing a lament for California dreams dying this way?
Most recently, 18-year-old Andres Guardado, killed last week by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies. He was running away when he was shot dead, the third and youngest of three Latinos shot by California law enforcement this month.
In the heart of sunny SoCal, a virulent history of racism casts a cold, dark shadow. Making lives matter today requires understanding this long road of injustice we've been walking.
Ever hear of the Murder at Sleepy Lagoon? The 1942 case of José Gallardo Díaz?
Detectives had scant evidence and the murder was never solved. But that didn't stop police from arresting nearly 600 Latino men, a jury from convicting 17 of them and a judge sentencing them to San Quentin.
Read on for that story below. But first, details on the heartbreaking death of Andres Guardado.
"He was a baby, he was a baby," Andres' cousin Celina Abarca told CNN through her tears.
"I feel like I'm dead inside," said
his mother Elisa Guardado.
People who gathered to protest the killing on Sunday were dispersed by police using pepper spray and rubber bullets.
Andres worked as a security guard at an auto body shop. Speaking to CBS LA, Andrew Heney, owner of the shop said: "We had a security guard that was out front, because we had just had certain issues with people tagging and stuff like that.
And then the police came up, and they pulled their guns on him and he ran because he was scared, and they shot and killed him. He's got a clean background and everything. There's no reason."
If police had bodycams running, the video has not been released. Andres' family alleges the deputy shot him in the back, but the sheriff refuses to release autopsy results for "security" reasons.
According to Lieutenant Charles Calderaro, here's how the shooting went down.
"Deputies observed the individual, at which point he observed the deputies. The individual then produced a handgun and began running southbound away from the deputies through businesses nearby. At some point, deputies contacted the suspect and that's when the deputy-involved shooting occurred."
Bullshit. Pardon my French.
Today the U.S. president uses various derogatory names for immigrants from south of the border.
In the 1940s, they were simply referred to as “the Mexican problem.”
But young Chicano men in the border states baptized themselves pachucos.
In Los Angeles they dressed to stand out, wearing zoot suits featuring wide lapels and baggy pants pegged at the ankles.
Pachucos rejected assimilation into Anglo-American culture speaking their own slang derived from the Calo gypsy language of El Paso. The resisted prejudice and inequality with their unique style of jazz and swing music.
Yes, they had attitude. The pachucos subculture defied American racism and oppression.
In 1942-43 some pachucos refused to yield to whites on the sidewalks and tried to bar them from their neighborhoods. Whites couldn't understand pachucos "secretive" language and grew suspicious because the pachucos didn't look and behave as they should. In the eyes of white citizens, they were trouble.
Police believed the zoot suiters were gang members and trouble-makers. L.A. officials believed the "Mexican problem" had to be solved.
The outbreak of WWII fired up fear and animosity that led Americans to distrust foreigners. Many experienced LA cops had gone off to war leaving locals uneasy about their safety.
In the fall of 1942, the “Mexican problem” appeared to be the only story newsworthy enough to make the front page alongside war updates in Los Angeles newspapers.
The death of a young Chicano man reported on August 2, 1942, in Commerce, California, created an opportunity for local law enforcement to crack down on the pachucos.
Apparently, a fight had broken out at a birthday celebration near a swimming hole known as Sleepy Lagoon.
A party guest José Gallardo Díaz was found unconscious along side the road near the reservoir and abandoned gravel pit near Slauson and Atlantic boulevards.
An ambulance rushed Díaz to hospital, but the 22-year-old died without regaining consciousness.
An autopsy showed that he had been drinking heavily and suffered a fracture at the base of his skull. There was no evidence that proved what caused the fracture, which could have been the result of Díaz falling and hitting his head, or an automobile accident.
Police swept through the Mexican American community, rounding up some 600 young men on charges related to Díaz' death. The way the newspapers told it, "the Mexican problem" had incited a juvenile gang war and the "Sleepy Lagoon Murder."
According to court records many of the pachucos taken into custody were severely beaten by police.
Los Angeles citizens and government officials wanted action to curb the alleged violence. A grand jury assembled to interview hundreds of Mexican-American teens and young adults, both witnesses and accused.
In addition, county sheriff’s officers defined the problem as they saw it, submitting a report to the Grand Jury titled "Statistics."
Capt. Edward Duran Ayres wrote the law enforcement document beginning with how Latino youth faced discrimination, lack of educational opportunity and poor job prospects.
But Ayres concluded his report with a nasty, racist attack on Chicano people in their entirety. Latinos were a different breed, he wrote, whose ancestors crossed the ice bridge from Asia to settle North America.
Ayres continued, “The Indian, from Alaska to Patagonia, is evidently Oriental in background – at least he shows many of the Oriental characteristics, especially so in his utter disregard for the value of life.”
Even so, police had to cut loose hundreds of the young men they had arrested. The County Grand Jury indicted 23 youths for the alleged gang murder of José Díaz.
Prosecutors charged 22 of the young men in the largest murder trial in California history. Presiding was Judge Charles Fricke, known as "San Quentin” Fricke, due to his propensity to sentence defendants to the state's high-security prison.
In the People v Zammora, part of the prosecution's case rested on the “distinctive appearance” of the accused, arguing that their fondness for fashion and taste for jazz proved their social deviancy.
After the four-month trial, the jury found 17 of the young men guilty: three of first degree murder, nine of second degree murder and five of assault with a deadly weapon. Their sentences ranged from life in prison to one year in the county jail. Five were found innocent.
The defendants appealed their verdicts and two years later the appellate court threw out all 17 of the convictions, citing lack of evidence, coerced testimony, deprivation of the right to counsel and judicial misconduct.
All accused were released.
Henry Leyvas, 21, and Gus Zammora, 22, two of the eight youths who were released from the County Jail, Monday, October 29, 1944 with all charges dismissed, after serving two years on conviction in the "Sleepy Lagoon" murder, are shown as they were greeted by relatives and friends. Left to right, Mrs. Lupe Leyvas, Seferino Leyvas, Henry Leyvas, Alice Greenfield, Gus Zammora and Ruth Amparay. LOS ANGELES PUBLIC LIBRARY HERALD-EXAMINER COLLECTION
Interesting to note, of the 10,000 people arrested across the nation during protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's killing, Los Angeles led all cities in the number of people arrested. More than a quarter of the arrests came in the City of Angels, many for low-level offenses like curfew violations and failure to disperse.
Back to the police shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado. The Los Angeles County Sheriff promises "transparency". He invited California's attorney general to oversee the his department's internal investigation.
Nu-uh! says the LA County Supervisor, mentioning a "trend" in the sheriff's office not to cooperate with outsiders looking into its business. The case needs an independent inquiry into Guardado's death. Let's hope it happens.
Another Latino man shot by California police earlier this month was kneeling with his hands above his waist when he was killed.
An officer in Vallejo responding to a looting call shot 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa. He fired five times at Monterrosa through the windshield of his unmarked police car, saying he thought Monterrosa had a gun.
Family and supporters of Monterrosa have demanded
that authorities release body camera video of the shooting. They refuse. The police union has now filed for a restraining order to block release of the name of the officer who fired the shots.
Four days after Monterrosa died, California highway patrol officers opened fire on the car Erik Salgado was driving in east Oakland, killing the 23-year-old and injuring his pregnant girlfriend.
CHP says officers suspected a stolen vehicle and attempted to make a traffic stop, but that Salgado started ramming CHP vehicles. In response,
officers fired three shots. Salgado, who was unarmed, died at the scene. His pregnant girlfriend, shot in the stomach, was taken to the hospital. She survived, but miscarried the baby.
All three of these men killed by California law enforcement in the last four weeks were suspected of property crimes.
#Black, #Latino and #Native lives matter. These young men of color deserve to be safe in California and alive to pursue their dreams.
There's a book detailing the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder case. More than a courtroom drama, The Sleepy Lagoon Murder Case by Mark A. Weitz is a study of race discrimination and the Mexican American struggle for equal rights.
According to the publisher, as the case unfolded, the prosecution and local media drew ominous comparisons between the supposed dangers posed by the Mexican-American defendants and the threat allegedly posed by thousands of Japanese Americans, whose sympathies had been called into question after Pearl Harbor.
Weitz shows how Zammora demonstrates what it is like to literally be tried in the court of public opinion where the "opinion" has been shaped before the trial even begins.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers in the blog comments, by email or social media.