Remembering January 31, 1971

The assassinations of Ruben Salazar, Lyn Ward, and Angel Gilberto Díaz at the Chicano Moratorium march and protest against the Viet Nam War on August 29, 1970 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were part of a deliberate police terror campaign designed to neutralize and destroy the Chicano Movement.

To many lay observers, August 29, 1970 marked the end of the Chicano Movement, however, that is further from the truth, as Chicana/o activists intensified their efforts in the aftermath of the police riot to continue the struggle for self-determination.

In the aftermath of August 29, 1970, the East Los Angeles community was rocked by police instigated riots on September 16, 1970, January 9, and January 31, 1971.

January 31, 1971 march against police brutality

January 31, 1971 march against police brutality

Chief Ed Davis of the Los Angeles Police Department blamed each of these police-riots on “swimming pool Communists” and the Brown Berets who apparently were “sophisticated in Bolshevik tactics.”

Chief Davis warned Chicana/o parents that “they’re [Communists] using the young Mexican Americans as prison fodder.” Furthermore, he suggested that the “parents put a stop to it.”

Rosalio Muñoz, co-chairman of the Chicano Moratorium Committee, wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times explaining the Chicana/o position on the tenuous police-community relations, but the letter was edited considerably at publication time.

The letter was a pre-cursor to what would be the last Chicano Moratorium march in Los Angeles during the Chicano Movement on January 31, 1971. Estimates range from 7,000 to 15,000 people marching in East Los Angeles to protest police brutality.

At the end of the march, approximately 500 people descended onto Whittier Blvd. and Arizona Ave. in the heart of East Los Angeles. The L.A. County Sheriff’s police force were already waiting and lined up in a firing squad position.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff ready to attack the Chicano community on January 31, 1971

The Los Angeles County Sheriff ready to attack the Chicano community on January 31, 1971.

As the Chicana/o marchers approached the business area, the police opened fire on the crowd. Over forty Chicanas/os were wounded by police gun-fire and close to 100 people arrested.

At the end of the police-riot, Gustav Montag, an Austrian exchange student from East Los Angeles College, lay dead from police bullets. Rick Browne’s eyewitness account of the events of January 31, 1971 are recorded in Jorge Mariscal’s Aztlán and Viet Nam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War:

LA County Sheriff on January 31, 1971.

LA County Sheriff on January 31, 1971.

“At the same instant, I heard four or five explosions and saw dust and concrete fly off the corner of the building at Whittier and Arizona. I turned and saw a sergeant bring his revolver down and holster it and saw two deputies in a crouch, pumping the spent cartridges out of their shotguns. The sergeant’s right hand and helmet were bloody. I turned back quickly and saw the heavy-set Chicano sprawled face down over the curb and the Chicano in the t-shirt lying motionless in the middle of the street, blood spurting from his neck.

The mortally wounded man was cared for by several friends, who waved the missile-throwers away and tried to stanch the flow of blood by applying pressure to the wound in his neck. A priest rushed up and several Chicanos gingerly lifted the dying man and, inexplicably, started to carry him to other side of Whittier and down a block to set him down. In the minutes before the ambulance arrived, several Chicanos who were gathered around the dying man yelled at the deputies, “Murderers!” and “Killer Pigs!” The sergeant who had fired his revolver – I didn’t get his name- commented later, “I don’t think I hit him. My shot hit the corner of the building.”

While the national media preferred to spotlight the events at Kent State University of May 4, 1970, in which the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd killing four and wounding nine Kent State students, the police-riot and murder of Gustav Montag on January 31, 1971 is deliberately swept under the rug.

Let us not forget the Martyrs of the Chicano Movement.

YA BASTA!!! Know Your History and Resist!!!

Richard Soto, a 20-year-old Brown Beret medic, helps carry injured protesters. Gustav Montag, was fatally shot in the confrontation that took place on Jan. 31, 1971.

Richard Soto, a 20-year-old Brown Beret medic, helps carry injured protesters. Gustav Montag, was fatally shot in the confrontation that took place on Jan. 31, 1971.


East Los Angeles on January 31, 1971 became a police-riot war zone.

East Los Angeles on January 31, 1971 became a police-riot war zone.

Know Your History!!!

Richard Soto, a Brown Beret medic watching over the fallen.


Raul Ruiz of La Raza Newspaper placing flag over the Martyrs of the Chicano Movement

Raul Ruiz of La Raza Newspaper placing flag over the Martyrs of the Chicano Movement.





















What follows below is the Chicano Moratorium letter to the Los Angeles Times that has been lost in the historical narrative as it relates police-community relations.

Yet the content of the letter is more relevant than ever, especially in light of the fact that the police continue to harass, jail, and murder Chicanas/os on a daily basis with their shoot-first, never ask questions later that always goes unpunished.

The Chicano Moratorium letter was extensively edited by the Los Angeles Times before being published. I have reprinted the original uncensored letter at the bottom.


The Chicano Moratorium Committee’s Letter to the Los Angeles Times – January 23, 1971

We of the Chicano Moratorium Committee are writing to you in response to your plea for some social facts to understand the strained situation between Chicanos and the police. The current conflict between Chicanos and the police is a political confrontation that historically has its roots in the mid 1800s when another police government body — The U.S. Army — forcibly took the land away from the Mexicans in this area. Subsequent brutal acts by border patrol and immigration law enforcement officers frequently leading to reciprocal violent defensive reactions by Mexicans made the situation more acute. The deportation of 312,000 persons of Spanish-surname — many American citizens — by immigration law enforcement officials during the Great Depression for political-economic reasons further strained and intensified the anger of people of Mexican descent toward the law and law enforcement.

Denying the Mexican American population in Los Angeles protection from rioting vigilante servicemen during the 1943 “Zoot Suit” riots, raised further doubts in Mexican Americans as to who it actually was that the police were there to “protect and serve.” Labeling the riots “Zoot Suit” only served to reveal the racist motivations of the press by applying an historically permanent label that implied “the Mexicans did it,” thereby simultaneously protecting the servicemen from public ridicule. The Sheriff’s department Captain Ayers’ “biological basis” racist report to the county grand jury during this period which stated that people of Mexican descent were biologically-prone to criminal behavior further intensified public racist attitudes towards Mexican Americans which also had the effect of permitting more aggressive police behavior toward “biologically crime-prone” population. The report was commended as an”intelligent statement” by LAPD Chief Horral. Subsequently, in 1960, Chief parker revealed his racist attitudes toward Mexican Americans [absorbed by the LAPD] when he said that Mexican Americans were like “wild Indians from the mountains of Mexico” and that genes had to be considered when discussing the “Mexican problem.” Today police have changed the label to “Communists” to discredit legitimate Chicano grievances and elicit public support for police initiated violence.

It has been a Chicano experience that when he has attempted to peacefully protest against the educational institutions that produce an excessively high Chicano student drop-out rate; against the wealthy Catholic Church that has milked the Chicano of his meager financial resources with no reciprocal benefits; and against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war which has resulted in a severe overrepresentation of Chicano deaths {in effect depriving the Chicano community of its future youth resource], his efforts have always been met with police-initiated political violence. In this respect, the police have been given and have adopted a sentry role to protect and serve these institutions that are gradually, socially, and psychologically destroying a class of people along with their rich, proud heritage and tradition. Chicanos, by day and night, are reminded of their low status in society by a sentry helicopter that was not a “called for” service by the Chicano community. The Chicano lives in a totalitarian-like atmosphere within a broader Los Angeles community that is comfortably [with the exception of the black community] functioning as a democracy. Being a population group numbering close to a million in this area, we have no city or county-elected Mexican American political representative to assist us with our problems. Our behavior can only be seen as a normal response to an abnormal condition created by those in political power.

The police brutality that occurs ten to twenty times a month in East Los Angeles again communicates to us our worth to the broader society that does not seem to care. We have not received federal protection against this abuse since the law was initially enacted in 1872. We desperately wish to be part of this society but your powerful sentry repeatedly sends us away bleeding. We are now directly protesting against the sentry. But it is not only the day-to-day police brutality that we have experienced for numerous decades that gravely concerns us, but rather a far more severe problem that our society is not even aware of, and that is that the police are increasingly becoming more powerful, political force in our increasingly less-free democratic society. The recent Skolnic Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence warned that “the ranks of law enforcement have become an ultraconservative social force which shrilly protests positive change.” The report also concluded that the increasing police militancy is hostile to the aspirations of dissident groups in society and that the police view protesters as a danger to our American political system. Although this is a national report, the situation is identical in Los Angeles as confirmed not only by our experience, but by the recent UCLA report of the May 5, 1970 student-police confrontation which stated that “police attack was discriminatory, focusing on minority group members and long hairs.”

Rather than calling off our protest, and returning to a life of fear under police totalitarian aggression, we have to continue to protest for purposes of survival. If Chicanos lose their right to protest in society because of police violence, you likewise are losing your freedom in America. In this respect, our insistence of the right to protest guarantees the right of all people in America to protest. If we allow police violence to intimidate us, it is really the broader society that is victimized.


cultural sovereignty

This entry was posted in Aztlan, Chicana/o Studies, Chicano Movement, Community, East Los Angeles, Education, History, Knowledge, Los Angeles, Mexican, Movimiento, Racism, Resistance. Bookmark the permalink.

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