Rather, “it was a stupid and entirely preventable accident,” the LA Times columnist reflects after studying the Sheriff’s Dept.’s documents of the investigation of Salazar’s death. Those documents, along with an independent review by a city watchdog agency, were finally released in February of this year.
The back story: in 1970, local journalist Ruben Salazar was covering a protest against the Vietnam war in East Los Angeles when he was killed by an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy. Salazar was an accomplished and trailblazing Latino journalist who had worked at the LA Times and Spanish language TV station KMEX. His tragic death became a lighting rod for controversy, a suspected assassination, and a symbol of police brutality against the Latino community.
Ruben Salazar had been lying on the floor of the Silver Dollar Bar for nearly three hours when a pair of homicide detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department finally arrived to examine his body.
It was Aug. 29, 1970. Night had fallen. The bar was dark and still stank of tear gas, so Dets. Donald Cannon and Conrad Alvarez donned masks and used “battle lamp” flashlights. Among the many facts in their report — the position of Salazar’s body, the location of the tear-gas canister that killed him — they noted the button pinned to his jacket:
“Chicano Moratorium. 8,000 Dead. Ya Basta! [Enough Already!]” Ruben Salazar had written several columns in support of Chicano activists opposed to the Vietnam War. Even in death, he was proclaiming his solidarity with their cause.
The documents also provided Tobar a glimpse into the attitudes local law enforcement had towards Chicanos and political activists 40 years ago, what he calls an “us versus them” mentality. His full column can be read here.