East Los Angeles rally honors Chicano Moratorium 50 years later

A poster reading “Salazar Lives” is seen at Ruben Salazar Park in East Los Angeles on Aug. 29. Salazar was a journalist and Chicano activist who was killed during the Chicano Moratorium in 1970. (Erik Galicia | Viewpoints)
By Erik Galicia

Shades of the Chicano Movement of old filled the streets of East Los Angeles on Aug. 29 for the 50th anniversary of a massive Vietnam War protest and the death of an influential journalist.

Sabino Ramirez, 73, of Montebello, said he was present at that protest Aug. 29, 1970.

“Back then Hispanics were on the front lines of the war,” Ramirez said. “There was a lot of racism when I was in the service. That’s why I left. We should not have been there in the first place.” 

The first Chicano Moratorium is believed to have drawn up to 30,000 demonstrators marching against the Vietnam War, which saw a disproportionate amount of Latino deaths. 

Ramirez said he was standing near the baseball field at what was then called Laguna Park, now called Ruben Salazar Park after the journalist who was killed that day, when he saw smoke coming from behind the tennis courts and people running. The smoke was coming from the tear gas canisters being shot at protesters by police. 

Ruben Salazar reportedly retreated into the Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe on Whittier Boulevard when the demonstration turned violent. Then, reports say, deputies fired a missile-type gas canister into the bar, which struck Salazar in the head and instantly killed him.

Salazar, a foreign correspondent in Mexico and columnist for The Los Angeles Times, covered issues in the Chicano community, which raised suspicions that he was targeted by law enforcement.

“He was a voice for our people,” Corazon Salas, a Brown Berets spokesperson, said. “He was spreading a message and they saw him as a threat and killed him.”

Salas, 21, came in from Houston, Texas to honor fallen Chicano activists and soldiers. Brown Berets from across the country attended the moratorium, some coming from as far away as Chicago. 

Stephen King, left, crosses arms with Humberto Guizar, right, in a show of Black and Brown solidarity as Christian Contreras, center, speaks. The three are attorneys from Justice X, an organization that aims to provide legal representation to minorities in the Los Angeles area. (Erik Galicia | Viewpoints)

Marchers walked from Atlantic Park to Salazar Park just as their predecessors did in 1970. Speakers at Salazar Park took the opportunity to continue the current fight against police brutality in Black and Brown communities. 

The family of Daniel Hernandez, a 38-year-old who was shot seven times by police April 22 in Los Angeles, said they witnessed his death when a family friend informed them the killing was live streamed on social media.

According to police, Hernandez approached officers with a boxcutter when they responded to a car crash he was involved in. 

“They should have deescalated it,” Marina Vergara, Hernandez’s sister, said. “This should never have happened. No one should have to witness their brother’s murder.”

Hernandez was shot by officer Toni McBride, the daughter of Jamie McBride, an LAPD union director. Vergara questioned the legitimacy of any internal investigation into the matter, arguing McBride’s father’s influence will keep the officer from suffering any consequences. 

Vergara also urged attendees to pressure the state legislature to enact police reform that would keep officers who have killed civilians from simply being hired by other departments.

An emotional Maria Hernandez, the victim’s mother, called for continued unity.

“Keep fighting for justice,” Maria said. “We will not fear. We will not kneel. This is our country too.”

An emotional Maria Hernandez calls for justice for her son Daniel, a 38-year-old who was killed by Los Angeles police officers April 22. (Erik Galicia | Viewpoints)