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August 1970 - Chicano Moratorium Protests in East L.A.; Journalist Rubén Salazar Killed

Chicano Moratorium Committee anti-war demonstrators
Chicano Moratorium Committee anti-war demonstrators gather in East L.A. | Photo: L.A. Times/UCLA Library Digital Collections/Creative Commons License

On August 29, 1970, a large anti-war demonstration in East Los Angeles organized by the Chicano Moratorium Committee escalated into violent clashes with law enforcement and charges of police brutality, resulting in the death of local journalist Rubén Salazar.

The socially turbulent late 1960s were remembered nationwide by numerous marches, rallies, protests, and other actions pertaining to opposing the Vietnam War, or fighting for civil rights issues, or both.

Locally, the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, calling for justice, empowerment, education, farmworker's rights, and other social issues, carried into the early 1970s. With some 170,000 Latinos, particularly of Mexican American descent, serving in the Vietnam War, a movement of Chicano anti-war activists, calling itself the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, organized a number of protests in California and the Southwest with the message, "Our struggle is not in Vietnam but in the movement for social justice at home."

The first Chicano Moratorium protest was organized on December 20, 1969 in East Los Angeles. Over 1,000 marchers participated. A second demonstration took place on February 28, 1970, also in East L.A., with some 3,000 protesters marching in the rain. The KCET program "¡Ahora!" covered this event in a documentary segment, which was used by organizers to rally more supporters to the movement.

Chicano Moratorium organizers called for a nationwide protest against the war on August 29. A dozen cities and towns from San Francisco to Houston, San Diego to Chicago, participated. The largest protest by far that day was the East Los Angeles march on Whittier Boulevard, with an estimated turnout of 30,000.

Though protesters contended their march was loud yet peaceful, L.A. County Sheriff's deputies responded by declaring the event "unlawful assembly" and shot tear gas into the crowd.

A riot erupted, with a number of stores set on fire, several hundred injured, 150 arrested, and four killed. The most notable casualty was that of award-winning journalist Rubén Salazar, the news director of KMEX-TV and a columnist for the L.A. Times.

Salazar had come to East L.A. to cover the protest, but sought temporary refuge in the Silver Dollar Bar on Whittier Boulevard when the march grew more violent. After a group of protestors ran into the bar, an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy fired a 10-inch tear gas round inside, hitting Salazar in the head and killing him. The coroner ruled Salazar's death as a homicide, but the Sheriff's deputy who shot him was never prosecuted. Though many activists believed that Salazar was monitored and targeted by law enforcement, an independent civilian review in 2011 found no evidence the shooting was premeditated.

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