A Look at Police and Prosecutorial Culture and the Killing of Mexican Origin People in Texas José Angel Gutiérrez, Emeritus, PhD, JD
Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct
We learned that Uvalde, Texas police could have avoided the murder of some children during the Robb Elementary School massacre had they moved quickly on the shooter. A student called 911 as the event unfolded and reported her teacher and classmates being shot. It appears the call center did not dispatch the emergency to anyone and if it was, no agency is taking responsibility for not responding. We learn now that the police chief for the school district did not have his phone with him at that time. Others had to tell him and the local police what was happening Dozens of law enforcement personnel, local, state, and federal, eventually showed up. They spent more time holding back parents from entering the school building to rescue their children, with ultra vires acts like tear gassing, using tasers, handcuffing, and physical retraining. They would not let anyone in, nor would they go in. Finally, a Border Patrol agent found an open door and at least fourteen officers went in. They stood in the hall listening to the continuous shooting waiting and waiting for an order to enter and take the shooter. It never came. A Border Patrol person took it as duty to stop the shooter, Salvador Ramos, and did by killing him after two teachers and eighteen students were dead.
Worse yet, information about the massacre to the public and media is being withheld by the District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee. (christina.busbee@38thda,org). It will be months before we get a better picture of what actually happened and who did or did not do what. We do know part of what prompted Ramos into rage was notice that he would not graduate from high school. He was 18 years of age. Surely, he realized this was akin to a death penalty into a live of endless poverty without a high school diploma. Among students of Mexican origin in the US there are “dropouts” and there are “pushouts.” The former is usually prompted by having to work to help the family, illness, teen pregnancy, and the like. A pushout is a systemic institutional strategy. The teachers, principals, counselors, and others charged with teaching properly to get students to graduate and do not. I know because I suffered segregation and discrimination in Crystal City ISD. Our “Mexican schools” were segregated and some, like my Junior High school, was where the Japanese Americans were held imprisoned during World War II. Once closed, the White personnel there became our teachers, administrators, bus drives, maintenance help, and the like. English only was the language of instruction, and an Anglo-centric curriculum was imposed. Failure to learn both well was cause enough to push you out of the school. It worked this way: upon entry at age 7 the Spanish speaking child was placed in grade Zero, then if progress was made promoted to low First, then high First, then low Second, then high Second. Count the years! At age 13-14 the school administration denied you promotion to the 3rd grade. Parents recognizing how long it had been and blaming their child for failure, let them drop out. Students themselves seeing how old they were getting opted for dropping out. The two-punch combination has led to Mexican origin children having the highest rate of leaving school and not graduating much less going to college. When I went to the community college by bus from Crystal City to Uvalde from 1962 to 1964, only a dozen of us were of Mexican origin. In 1960 the median educational level of Mexican origin persons in Zavala County was 1.8 grades.
Since 1954, Robb Elementary is the school where Mexican origin students have been segregated. The Uvalde ISD was the longest running desegregation lawsuit and Order in the US. The first such desegregation case was filed by Mexican origin parents in the US. (Maestas v. Shone, Alamosa Case No. 6, Alamosa, Colorado, April 17, 1914).
The White Rich Landowners
Uvalde County is also known as home to two infamous Texans, John Nance Garnar and Dolph Briscoe. Garnar was the first US Congressman for South Texas in the 1900s. Later became Speaker of the House and ultimately Vice President under FDR for one term; he was too much of an obstructionist to the New Deal. After his public life, he incorporated and owned banks in every Winter Garden county. To date, no minority owned bank or credit union exists in that area. There are lots of pawn and quick loan shops plus check cashing locations, the poor people’s banks. About ten percent of White people own over 90 percent of all the land in the Winter Garden. Poverty among Mexicans is endemic and indefinite. Dolph Bricoe, when alive, was the largest single land owner in Texas. Now his heirs own the 660,000 acres of land, most of it in Maverick and Dimmit Counties, but they are in litigation.
Bricoe had the Farm to Market road going from Eagle Pass, Texas the border town across from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico to Laredo, Texas destroyed and removed from maps. You can only drive that route on the Mexican side, not Texas unless you are escorted by Bricoe Ranch personnel. Only from the air, you can see the number of oil and gas wells, cattle and other livestock, landing air strips, airplanes, umpteen buildings and barracks and barns, including a looks-like-a-mansion residence and what is left of the original road. To date, no investigation, no rebuilding, no charges for having blown up parts of that Farm to Market Road or reimbursement to the state for costs of the original road, have ever been mentioned, not even in the press. How can his property taxes be appraised? Maybe there is some obscure piece of legislation he pushed thru that allowed him to deny access and travel on that Farm to Market road that once was, a constitutionally mandated right of all US residents. Plus, how many Mexican laborers who may inadvertently crossed into the US are being held there as forced, enslaved labor.
The Winter Garden area’s geography in Texas is Uvalde County on the north, Frio and La Salle Counties to the east, Maverick County to the west, Dimmit County to the south. In the center is Zavala County, my home town and county seat is Crystal City, Texas. I know the area especially in the light of killings and beatings by police, prosecutorial indifference and negligence, blatant segregation and racism by whites against Mexican origin people. I call it the killing culture.
White Border Militia 2022
The Patriots of America, an unregulated armed militia, operates is Kinney County, next door to Uvalde County going west on Highway 90. Their self-anointed purpose and mission is to hunt and detain persons they suspect are undocumented “illegal aliens,” as they call their targets. The Patriots under the leadership of Samuel Hall, met regularly with Maverick County deputies, US National Guard soldiers on duty with Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, the County Judge, Tully Shahan, and the Sheriff, Brad Coe. The Patriots have held fund raising events in Dallas gathering about $10,000 and over GiveSendGo, a Christian crowd funding site close to $16,000. Their “patrols” include runs on county roads, Farm to Market Roads, and state highways down to Eagle Pass in Maverick County and up to Del Rio in Val Verde County. (Texas Monthly, May 2022, ps 75-.81).
White Border Militia 2003
In 2003 down in Jim Hogg County, the unregulated militia operated under the name of Ranch Rescue. They were allowed access into private lands to vigil, apprehend, detain undocumented border crossers. They did violently well by beating suspected border crossers, detaining them in cages, and threatening to kill them. A group of civil rights advocates file suit in federal court under the style of Leiva et al v. Ranch Rescue, et al. They won. The land of a Jim Hogg owner was confiscated, the militia men were given prison sentences, and all were fined. One of the few successful outcome of such cases.
Mike Ramos RIP
Last March 2020 in Austin, Texas, police shot an unarmed Mike Ramos, first with a bean bag by a rookie police office, as he was standing, hands up, outside his car. Mike jumped into his car and began to drive away. Another police officer shot at him in the car with real bullets killing him. This officer had a similar episode in 2019 killing another person. The police are claiming it was justified and no investigation has contradicted that explanation so far. His name was being chanted in Austin during the Geo. Floyd solidarity protests of last week. But the national media kept the focus on George Floyd.
The Walmart Massacre, El Paso
On August 3rd of 2019 at the downtown Walmart in El Paso, Texas 23 people were killed and 25 more injured critically. The killer was Patrick Crusius, a 21-year old White man from Allen, Texas who drove 657 miles to find Mexicans to shoot. He is not a policeman so he has been charged and will be tried sometime after the pandemic permits public court proceedings to proceed.
Compare the McDonald’s Massacre, San Ysidro, California
On July 18, 1984, at the McDonald’s in San Ysidro by the US-Mexico border, James Oliver Huberty, told his wife “he was going out to hunt Mexicans.” He was armed with lots of weapons and ammunition just like Crusius was in El Paso and Ramos was in Uvalde. He walked in and began shooting customers, all Mexicans and Chicanos, at 4 pm. For 77 minutes he opened fire on anyone that caught his eye. The media had the developing story on the air before police arrived. The SWAT Commander for San Diego County, Jerry Sanders, was at a drinking party in Mission Bay and would not answer his phone for an hour and seventeen minutes. On site 175 police surrounded the McDonald’s and a SWAT sniper found a building from where he could shoot the killer. He was in place and ready, locked in and loaded with the shooter in clear sight. Huberty ordered all to stand down until he arrived. Not until 5:17pm did Huberty authorize the taking out of the shooter. By then, 19 Mexicans, 3 Chicanos, and 17 others were seriously wounded from the 275 rounds Huberty fired off before he was stopped by the police sniper. Nothing followed this massacre as to police misconduct beginning with the SWAT Commander but for his promotion to Police Chief and Mayor of San Diego in 2005.
Claudia Torres, Rio Bravo, RIP
Last May 23, 2018, in Rio Bravo, Texas, 12 miles south of Laredo, a Border Patrol officer killed 20-year old Guatemalan woman, Claudia Torres, shooting her point blank in the head. The officer first claimed he was being assaulted by a group of border crossers with blunt objects then it was that they charged at him. An investigation got underway by Texas Rangers and federal officers because of witness statements and video footage; nothing has happened since. Border Patrol agents, like US police enjoy the privileges of impunity and immunity in similar situations.
Marcelo Lucero, Looked like a Mexican, New York, RIP.
In November 2008 in Suffolk County, New York, seven white teenagers wanted to get a “Mexican” as part of their sporting fun they called “beaner bopping.” They found Marcelo Lucero who was from Ecuador. They could not tell the difference or wanted to. They stabbed him to death. There is a long history of police brutality, murder, assault, over-policing, and arbitrary detention spanning centuries.
Esequiel Hernandez, 14-year old, Redford, Texas. RIP
In May 1997 a 4-man squad of US Marines in camouflage were hiding on private property without permission watching the border for smugglers and border crossers. A high school sophomore, Esequiel Hernandez while herding his family’s goats on their property came along and was shot by a Marine because Esequiel had a .22 caliber rifle. The Marines did not call for help, instead watched him bleed to death. They claimed he had shot at them, and they shot back. A Congressional investigation several months later found no provocation on the part of Esequiel. No military prosecution ever took place. A civil case was settled for money with the federal government.
The Voting Rights Act, 1975 and Modesto Rodriguez,. Pearsall, Texas
U.S. Army veteran Modesto Rodriguez, head of the Raza Unida Party in Frio County, traveled to Washington D.C. in February 1975. He went to testify before Congress on extending and expanding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to include language minorities, namely Spanish speaking Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Upon return, he was arrested by local and state police for resisting arrest and badly beaten into a coma that lasted weeks. He never recovered fully from the beating. The police were exonerated with findings of “Not Guilty.”
1975-Ricardo Morales, Hondo, Medina County, Texas, RIP
Chief of Police of Castroville, Frank Hays, had an officer, Don McCall, arrest and deliver Ricardo Morales to him but not at the local jail instead a back road off Highway 90 in Medina County. There he had Morales uncuffed and proceeded to beat him with a shotgun’s butt. He stated to the other police officers that he had killed a Mexican before and “I’m fixing to kill another one.” He ordered the officers to leave the scene and go back to Castroville. They did drive off but only about 300 yards and parked. Soon after they heard a muffled sound of discharging weapon. They went to investigate and found Morales dead on the ground. They helped Hayes take the body. The next day,. Hayes got his wife and daughter to help him take the body for burial in East Texas. His sister-in-law was an accomplice in that burial. The police officers confessed to the Sheriff about the murder. The wife and daughter confessed to a Texas Ranger. Chief Hayes was found guilty and sentenced to twenty month but only served a few. The others were exonerated. This time, however, a federal court did try Hayes, wife, daughter, and in-law. All were given longer sentences but the daughter who for unexplained reasons was not tried.
1977-José Campos Torres, Houston, Texas, RIP
Torres, a Viet Nam veteran known to get rowdy, loud, and menacing when drunk was arrested on May 5th by Houston police during Cinco de Mayo festivities. They beat him supposedly to subdue him and hand cuffed him as well. At the jail, the intake officer refused to book him given his condition and recommended he be taken to the hospital. Instead, six officers gathered at Buffalo Bayou, a place they called the Hole. They beat him so more to show a rookie policeman, Joseph Janish, the place and how to beat a prisoner. Then, officers Terry Dawson and Steven Orlando, thought it would be better to dump him into the bayou despite the water level. Torres was still handcuffed and unconscious as he dropped into the water and drowned. His body surfaced three days later. After investigating, Dawson and Orlando were tried and sentenced to a year probation and a one dollar fine. The community protested and rioted. In federal court, they were re-tried and given ten -year sentences by a jury only to have the judge reduce the terms to a year.
Mayor Othal Brand of the food label Griffin & Brand ruled as mayor in McAllen for over 20 years. His police department had a group who called themselves the C-Shift Animals, mostly Mexican Americans themselves. For fun, they would beat up those already in custody, those being arrested, and those being interrogated, all of them Mexicans. Complaints about this police brutality went unheeded and ignored. The District Attorney never investigated one case. A civil case brought by James Harrington proved in federal court with video-taped evidence that no less than 72 cases had taken place in jail by these police officers. The city settled the case for money in 1981, no criminal investigations.
1973-Santos Rodriguez, Dallas, Texas, RIP
A FINA gas station was robbed the night of July 24, 1973, and Dallas police officers Darrell. L. Cain on duty with Roy Arnold in the area responded to the call. Cain was convinced he knew who had done the robbery and proceed to the home of Bessie Rodriguez, mother of Santos and Danny. Danny was 13 years old and Santos was 12. The police rousted the mother and took the boys away without warrants for arrest or any other explanation other than they were suspected of robbing the gas station at 2 a m. Cain decided to play Russian Roulette with his gun on Santos to make him confess. The gun went off and blew the brains of Santos all over the police car while Danny watched in horror as well as the other office, Arnold. A local jury found Cain guilty, and he was sentenced to five years and served a little over two years. Arnold was exonerated as was another police officer, Horace Hop, who failed to file a police report on the incident. Later, Drew Days, the first African American man to hold the position within the Department of Justice, Office of the Civil Rights Division, refused to prosecute a federal jury.
1972- Ricardo Falcon-Oro Grande, New Mexico, RIP
Enroute over Labor Day weekend to the national convention of the Raza Unida Party in El Paso, Texas, Ricardo and wife, Priscilla Falcon with others stopped for water due to their car overheating. The Chevron gas station owner, Perry Munson objected to the taking of water. Falcon took the water anyway and was shot to death by Munson. He was exonerated by a local jury and that ended the case without intervention much less investigation by the Department of Justice.
1971-Alfonso Flores, RIP, Pharr, Texas.
Mexicans from the segregated northside of the city marched to City Hall to protest police brutality, segregation, poor living conditions, and poverty. The white Mayor called out police and fire fighters to disperse the crowd. A police riot occurred. The firemen turned high pressure hoses on the protestors. A white Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed Alfonso Flores who was leaving a barber shop nearby after a haircut. He was exonerated. The main organizer of the protest, Efrain Fernandez, had a gun put to his head by the police chief demanding he get the crowd to leave. No law enforcement officers, or firefighters was charged with any crime.
Mexican Targets From 1900s
1916-El Paso, Texas. 23 Mexican men burned to death while in jail. They had refused being sprayed for delousing and disinfecting before crossing into the US. Someone lit a match. No one was charged and the practice continued.
1917-El Paso, Texas. Carmelita Torres, RIP
As a 17 years old working cleaning houses in El Paso, she refused to strip naked and be sprayed for delousing and disinfecting by Border Patrol and Customs Agents at the border crossing. While nude the agents would photograph the women they liked and post those photos in bars they frequented in El Paso. Carmelita organized other Mexican women crossing from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico to refuse. The protest resulted in what the El Paso press termed the Bath House riots. Carmelita was arrested by federal agents and disappeared. No one was charged and the practice continued. One chemical used, Zyklon B, was later used by the Nazi’s on Jews.
1918-Porvenir, Texas. Texas Rangers and US Army troops roused all Mexican men in town, marched them to the outskirts and shot them all. The actual massacre was done by the Texas Rangers under the watchful eye of US Army soldiers. A week later the Texas Rangers returned and burned the entire town to the ground. No charges were ever brought against anyone. The only State Representative in Texas then, José Tomás Canales, did hold hearings in 1919 on the massacre which resulted in little reform.
1922-Brakenridge, Texas. On February 25, 1922, a mob of White men rampaged through the Mexican side of town assaulting residents and demanding they leave town. More than 300 families left, and their properties destroyed. No one was charged for this violent riot.
1931-Los Angeles, California. US Immigration Agents rounded up more than 400 Mexicans, men, women, children, of all ages while at La Placita Catholic Church and deported them to Mexico. Most were US citizens. They were never returned to their homes. The practice of deporting Mexicans from US soil became an on-going ethnic cleansing operation for decades.
1947-1964-USA. The US and Mexico agreed on a guest worker program that became a rent-a-slave operation to benefit US agriculture, railroads, forestry, and fisheries. It was called the Bracero Program. The 3.1 million Mexican men, mostly and a few thousand women, were contracted to work during the 22 years of the program. Many left their work site over poor housing, food, no health services, wage deductions, and violence. Other Mexicans not contracted into the program came across and were hired under worse conditions. Money deducted from wages by the US and states with income tax provision was never refunded and monies sent to be held in trust in Mexico never was refunded either. In Chualar, California, a freight train ran over a bus carrying 58 Mexican men going to work. This crash is the largest in history. The train crash killed 32 of the men and injured 27 more, including the driver. No one was held liable for this irresponsible and grossly negligent act.
1953-1954-USA. President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the deportation of all Mexicans from the US without proper entry documents. Over 1.3 million were deported in Operation Wetback, about one third were lawful entry and others were US citizens. Man in charge initially and later as head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was Harlan Carter. He killed his first Mexican youth in Laredo, Texas while he was a juvenile. After years with the INS he became the head of the National Rifle Association.
June 1942-San Diego and Los Angeles, California. US sailors and Army personnel on leave from war duty in the Pacific began to assault and beat Mexican youth with support from local police. Young Mexican girls would be manhandled, and some sexually assaulted while the boys would be stripped of their clothing, their hair cut, beat up, and pissed on. These became known as the Zoot Suit Riots because of the style of clothing some Mexican youth wore. No one was charged and the wearing of the Zoot Suit was outlawed by city ordinance.
August 1942-Commerce, California. Police rounded up 600 or so Mexican youth and charged 22 of the males with murder despite no weapon or witnesses to any crime. The police called them the 38th Street Gang and the mass trial resulted in convictions for all with severe sentences. The girls involved were sent to Ventura School for Girls despite no charges being filed on them. In 1944, their cases were overturned on appeal, and they were released. No compensation or apology was ever made to those charged or their families. This became known as the Sleepy Lagoon Case.
1911-Antonio Gomez, Thorndale, Texas, RIP
Only 14 years old, he was hanged because he stabbed a White man with his pocket knife. Antonio was whittling a piece of wood with his knife and had scraps on the sidewalk in front of a store. The owner objected and manhandled Antonio accusing him of making a mess in front of his store. Antonio knifed and stabbed the man in self-defense. Regardless, a vigilante group decided he had murdered the man and proceeded to lynch him in Milan County on June 19 1911.
1863- Josefa “Chipita” Rodriguez, San Patricio, Texas, RIP
Charged with murder of a White man, she was tried. The jury found justification and recommended clemency. The district judge Benjamin Franklin Neal, however, did not agree and made her an example of justice. He ordered her to be hanged and was at age 63 on November 13, 1863.
(William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013; Ken Gonzalez-Day, Lynching in the West, 1850-1935, Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).
Copyright 2022 by José Angel Gutiérrez. Photo of Crystal City signage and Ricardo Falcon press conference copyrighed © by Jesús Treviño. All other images in the public domain.