Column: Latin Newsmen, Police Chief Eat ... but Fail to Meet

The Los Angeles Latin press corps took Police Chief Ed Davis out to dinner the other night. The enchiladas were good but the conversation left both sides hungry for understanding.

The dinner had been planned for some time but it was the chief’s bad luck that it came on a night when Roosevelt High School was still much in the minds of the Latin newsmen.

It had been a week in which Spanish-speaking reporters had seen policemen drag teenage girls by the hair on the Roosevelt campus, a predominantly Mexican-American school. It had been a week in which a police captain tried to prevent a cameraman from a Spanish-language television station from filming a student disturbance by putting his hand in front of the camera’s lens.

It had been a week in which a Mexican-American editor with 25 years of service in the Spanish-speaking community was denied entrance to the Roosevelt campus because he had a sheriff’s press card and not a police press card. And it had been a week in which a policeman had yelled at the manager of a Spanish-language television station: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for filming this!” (a student walkout).

The Latin newsmen who had invited Chief Davis to dinner were not Chicano underground press types. On the contrary, many were more businessmen than newsmen and far more conservative than the average Anglo newsman.


Yet, on that night the Latin newsmen, while waiting for the chief to arrive, talked about the growing disrespect between the police department and the Spanish-speaking community and voiced the opinion that they now understood what the Walker Commission mean when it talked of a “police riot.”

It was the first time in memory that a Los Angeles police chief had publicly gotten together with a significant number of Spanish-speaking reporters and the newsmen were anxious to get to the guts of the agenda: finding ways to attain mutual respect between the Spanish-language press and the police department so that this respect can be reflected in the community.

It didn’t go well.

The chief started talking about a trip he had made recently to Mexico and his great admiration for the country and its pyramids. After a while, the chairman interrupted apologetically and said, “Chief, we know all about Mexico and the pyramids ... Could we get on with the business at hand ...”

Some of the newsmen insisted that the chief appoint a Spanish-speaking lieutenant for liaison between the Latin media and the police department. The chief explained patiently that this would be impossible because of budget problems but said he might assign a patrolman to the job.

One of the newsmen became indignant, as only touchy Latins can, and said that perhaps they would have to go Washington or the Latin embassies to get what they needed.

The chief scored a point by saying that he ran the police department and not President Nixon or anyone else and informed the newsmen that he, the chief, has just written the President telling him off. This would have been a pretty good lesson in democracy except that the chief chose to go further.

Telling the president off could not be done in Mexico, the chief told the Latin newsmen, because Mexico had a “Napoleonic” style of justice which to Americans smacked of “tyranny and dictatorship.”

This went over like a lead piñata especially with the newsmen who work for Mexico City newspapers.

It was decided that another meeting be held between Latin newsmen and the chief to further explore their problems. Both sides left feeling frustrated—but not too unhappy over the possibility that a line of communication might be opening. After all, when you eat enchiladas together, it’s a beginning.