Ruben Salazar, the former Los Angeles Times reporter and columnist who became an engaged supporter of the radical Chicano movement in Los Angeles, died under mysterious circumstances in 1970. Now a new documentary set to air on PBS in April will reassess his life and the facts surrounding his death.
"Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle," directed and produced by Phillip Rodriguez, will use information from newly released files, as well as interviews with Salazar's friends, family members and former co-workers at The Times to provide a compelling new biography.
Salazar worked as a reporter for The Times beginning in 1959. After a time as a foreign correspondent in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam and then as a bureau chief in Mexico City, Salazar was brought back to L.A. to cover the rising Chicano power movement.
It was during this period, from 1968 until his death just two years later, that Salazar's profile grew. His articles describing the movement and its run-ins with police were published just as his identification with the movement itself grew.
In April 1970, Salazar became news director for radio station KMEX as well as a columnist for The Times, writing about the Chicano movement with more opinion and explaining it further to the newspaper's mostly white audience.
In August 1970, Salazar was covering a Chicano antiwar protest when rioting and looting broke out. Police moved in to suppress the violence, and Salazar and others took refuge in a nearby bar. Police surrounded the bar and demanded that the people inside come out. Authorities then fired tear gas canisters inside and everyone evacuated except for Salazar, who was found dead.
The debate over whether Salazar died accidentally or was targeted by police has raged for decades, and the documentary will offer never-before-seen documents, photos and film from L.A. County Sheriff's Department files.
In a statement, Rodriguez said, "The Salazar story had long been considered to be an ethnic story, a regional story. But it is much bigger than that. This is a story about a regular guy who, motivated by principle, challenges an abusive authority at great risk to himself -- it's a classic American story."
"Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle" is scheduled to on PBS on April 29.
[For the Record January 8, 5:07 p.m.: A previous version of this post characterized the site of Salazar's death as a diner. It was a bar.]