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Zoot Suit Riots

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The riots began in Los Angeles, amidst a period of rising tensions between American servicemen stationed in southern California and Los Angeles' Chicano community. Many of the tensions between the Chicano community and the sailors existed because the servicemen walked through a Chicano neighborhood on the way back to their barracks after nights of drinking. The discrimination against the Chicano minority community was compounded by robberies and fights during these drunken interactions. In July 1942, a group of Hispanic youth fought back against police who attempted to break up a street corner gambling game. In October 1942, over 600 Chicano youth were arrested, and dozens charged, in the killing of Jose Diaz in a supposed gang brawl at the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir. This led to a court trial whose convictions were later overturned. During the case, sensationalist press account inflamed hostility towards young Chicanos.

The following year, clashes between white servicemen and Hispanic youth increased. In May 1943, sailors claimed that "zoot suiters" stabbed a sailor, and they retaliated by beating young Hispanics leaving a local dance.[1] On May 31, 1943, a group of white sailors on leave clashed with a group of young Hispanics in the downtown area. One sailor, Joe Dacy Coleman, was badly injured. In response, 50 white sailors gathered and headed out to downtown and East Los Angeles, which was the center of the Hispanic community. They attacked young people, especially targeting males in "zoot suits." In many instances, the police intervened by arresting Hispanic youths for disturbing the peace. They left the sailors to the military justice system. The violence escalated over the ensuing days. Thousands of servicemen joined the attack. Many African Americans[2] assisted the Chicano community by providing vehicles and weapons to fight back against the Caucasian sailors. Several hundred pachucos (as the young Hispanic men were known) and nine sailors were arrested as a result of the fighting that occurred over the next few days.

An eyewitness to the attacks, journalist Carey McWilliams, described the scene as follows:

Marching through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, a mob of several thousand soldiers, sailors, and civilians, proceeded to beat up every zoot suiter they could find. Pushing its way into the important motion picture theaters, the mob ordered the management to turn on the house lights and then ran up and down the aisles dragging Mexicans out of their seats. Streetcars were halted while Mexicans, and some Filipinos



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