Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles
The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943: What caused them, what happened, and what were the effects?
Causes for the riots in 1943
History of racism
Stylish dress seen as un-American during wartime.
Stage set for riots
Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the Zoot Suit riots
Effects of riots
Political activism in Mexican American community
Series of reforms in the Los Angeles Police Department
Mexican Revolution, World War I, “brown scare”.
Mexican Americans depicted as security risk
Formation of racist policies and procedures
Bias in criminal justice system.
Academic theories of criminal behavior
Media sensationalized violence in barrio
Sleepy Lagoon Murder Case in 1942
Jose Diaz found dead at a swimming hole
Zoot Suit Riots in 1943
What is a zoot-suit
What it represented
Why sentiment was against the zoot-suit
No direct cause
Lasted 10 days
44 Mexican Americans arrested
No servicemen arrested
Many Mexican American families “anglicized” their children Other Mexican Americans became more politically active
Reformation of LAPD standards of conduct.
Officers took race relations training
Added more Mexican Americans to force
Mexican Americans criminalized as a race.
This set the stage for a 10 day riot
As diverse as the city of Los Angeles is, it has a history of racial tension and civil unrest. From 1910, the start of the Mexican Revolution and World War I when President Theodore Roosevelt instituted the “brown scare” (Coerver, 2001), to 1913, when the California Alien Land Act prohibited Japanese immigrants and citizens of Japanese descent from owning land in California, to 1934, when 3000 Chinese immigrants were displaced to make way for Union Station, to 1942, when 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps, Los Angeles has historically been the center of racial controversy and tension (“Year by Year,” 1999). In 1943, Los Angeles was also full of young African Americans and Mexican Americans trying to protest the racism in the American culture by expressing themselves with their own music, clothing, culture, and style (Cosgrove, 1985). By the time of the Sleepy Lagoon murder in 1942, the stage had been set for the Zoot Suit Riots that occurred in June 1943. Although the riots only lasted ten days, the ramifications ranged from cultural repression on the part of many Mexican American families, to political activism on the part of others, and the beginning of reform within the Los Angeles Police Department.
In 1910, Mexico entered into a revolution; shortly thereafter the United States entered World War I. About this time President Theodore Roosevelt started talking about a “brown scare”; profiling Mexican Americans as possible “trouble makers” suddenly became a matter of “national security” (Coerver, 2001). Although the 1920 United States Census categorized Mexican Americans as “white” (Coleman, 2001), the LAPD increasingly linked race to criminal behavior (Coerver, 2001). At the time, the police department was under direct control of the mayor, and therefore directly linked to the business community. One of the department’s “institutional objectives was to protect the general public from a people defined as criminally inclined and culturally flawed” (Marquez, 2001, p. 331). Special squads were formed, called “red squads”, which specialized in squashing labor unrest and closing down union activities. Because of labor movements among the Mexican farm workers and minimum wage workers, these squads targeted the Mexican American community. Abuses in the community by officers in the Los Angeles Police Department or Sheriff’s Department were rarely, if ever, investigated or prosecuted (Marquez, 2001).
Supporting a police force that targeted minorities was a biased criminal justice system and a...
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Coleman, J. A. (2001). “It only changes shape.” America. New York. Vol. 185, no. 1, pp. 32-3.
Cosgrove, S. (1985). “The Zoot-Suit and Style Warfare.” History Workshop Journal (Great Britain). No. 18, p. 77-91.
Del Olmo, F. (March 19, 2000). “Commentary: L.A.’s Latinos to the Chandlers.” The Los Angeles Times. p. M5.
Marquez, B. (Spring 2001). “Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900-1945.” The International Migration Review. Vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 331-332.
Obregon Pagan, E. (2000). “Los Angeles Geopolitics and the Zoot Suit Riot, 1943.” Social Science History. 24(1): 223-256.
Sotomayor, F. O. (October 25, 1999). “Stories that Shaped the Century: Zoot Suits Set Off Rage of Vigilante Servicemen.” The Los Angeles Times. p. 4.
Tobar, H. (April 20, 1997). “Sleepy Lagoon Victims Laud Their Champion.” The Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
“Year by Year: Southern California Chronology.” (January 10, 1999). Los Angeles Times. p. 6.
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