44 years ago, on August 29, 1970, Ruben Salazar was killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy during a peace march against the Vietnam War in Los Angeles. His death is the lasting legacy of a pivotal moment in the Chicano-American civil rights movement. The antiwar march, known as the Chicano Moratorium, was nearly 30,000 strong and thus the largest Mexican-American rally to date. Along the way an “incident” sparked chaos giving sheriff’s deputies the pretext to move in with force, rushing the crowd with billy clubs and tear gas. It soon became the biggest and bloodiest riot in L.A. since the Watts riot in 1965.
Salazar had worked for years at the Los Angeles Times but by the time of his death he had moved on to KMEX, where he felt he had more freedom to report on issues important the Chicano community. By August 1970 he had become the most influential Latino journalist of his day and over the years his criticism of the authorities’ treatment of the Latino community had grown increasingly strident. While covering the march, Ruben took refuge in a nearby cafe when things got too hot in the streets. The cafe was quickly surrounded by the police. What happened next has been the subject of heated arguments ever since. The only certainty is that Ruben Salazar never made it out alive. The LA County Coroner ruled the killing a homicide but the deputy who’s gun fired the fatal shot was never charged. The L.A. Sheriff’s Department held out until 2012 before releasing its records of the case, and then only to settle under the pressure of a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. That information has broadened our understanding of the events but by no stretch has the controversy been cleared up. As reported earlier this year by the LA Times the “legacy of Ruben Salazar has reached folklore heights since the journalist’s suspicious death in 1970 at 42.”
Check out these Ruben Salazar resources on the Web:
Autobiography: back in high school I was moved to a new state and a new school. I didn’t take to it too well and ended missing the last half of my sophomore year. I just never showed up. The new school didn’t know who I was and never even bothered find out where I was!
Looking back, ironically, it was during that period that I acquired what turned out to be a most influential education– I began reading what I wanted to read rather than what someone else wanted me to read. And some of the first books I picked up– Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Dharma Bums and Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory— changed my life. After that all I wanted to do was hit the road, and so I did. I spent much of the next five years ramblin’, by thumb, by Hound, and with friends, traversing much of the country and western Canada. I made it to nearly every state, many of the national parks, and a ton of concerts and festivals along the way. With countless hours and miles of two-lane blacktop under my feet I learned what an amazing place this country really is– equal parts beautiful, intimidating, scary and awe-inspiring. So here’s to Woody and Jack: