‘I have complete respect for law enforcement. I no longer have fear about the police. But I’ll never forget that night. Never.’

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Some 8 1/2 years later and a couple of miles away, Roberto Rodriguez is still at it on the Eastside.

Working these days out of a modest two-room office on Beverly Boulevard, Rodriguez, 33, is pursuing his journalistic passion--writing about Latinos and issues that concern them. He is publisher and director of Americas 2001, a fledgling bilingual magazine that focuses on Latinos.

Nothing, not even what occurred early on the morning of March 23, 1979, has deterred him.

Rodriguez, then a high school teacher, was also working as a free-lance photographer when he was assigned by a Chicano youth magazine, Low Rider, to cover a phenomenon familiar to many on the Eastside--weekend car cruising on Whittier Boulevard.


“It was a typical night of cruising,” Rodriguez remembered. “Cars popping up and down, traffic bumper to bumper . . . people wanting to see and be seen.”

But then, shortly after midnight near McDonnell Avenue, in the heart of the area’s business district, a young man wandered out into traffic. Sheriff’s deputies, who were there to deal with the problems associated with the cruising, took the man into custody but beat him up without provocation, some witnesses said.

Rodriguez, watching the incident unfold, took pictures of it. When deputies noticed him, Rodriguez said, one of them yelled, “Get the camera!” He also claimed the deputies threatened him.

The officers chased Rodriguez, beating him with their clubs. One of the blows caused a gash on the forehead that required 14 stitches, he said.

The deputies said that Rodriguez shouted profanities and that they threatened to arrest him for interfering, but when they tried to grab him, he hit them with his camera and a fight ensued in which his face was cut.

Rodriguez, who denied the deputies’ assertions, was arrested for assaulting a peace officer but was later released. He said his camera was returned without the film he said he shot of the incident.


The incident outraged many Chicano activists. In a book he wrote about the incident, “Assault With a Deadly Weapon,” Rodriguez said, “It is about 1979, but it is also about the wheels of justice and the lack of justice.”

The following year, Rodriguez sued Los Angeles County and four sheriff’s deputies for $300,000. A lot occurred before the case finally went to trial last year. Several months after the incident, that stretch of Whittier was shut off to weekend crusing; it remains so today. And many questioned Rodriguez’s integrity and his version of events, saying he was a hot-headed activist who was in the wrong.

However, after a two-week trial in February, 1986, Rodriguez got a $205,000 settlement from the county.

He used the money to establish his magazine, which features debates between prominent people on such issues as immigration reform and U.S. policy in Central America. In his office, he talks enthusiastically of the Eastside to high school and college students who help out with Americas 2001, of his sense of pride of being Chicano and of his own belief that Latinos need more political power.

But the talk eventually turns to the Whittier Boulevard incident.

“I have complete respect for law enforcement,” he said. “I no longer have fear about the police. But I’ll never forget that night. Never.”