Remembering Ruben Salazar


Ruben Salazar, a former Times staff writer and columnist, died covering the 1970 East L.A. riots. His friend and fellow writer Enrique Hank Lopez remembered what Salazar said only weeks before his death: “In all candor, gentlemen, I can’t say I’m entirely hopeful. It may be too late to forestall the violence of long-festering frustration. But I think we should try.” But the violence wasn’t stopped. Two days after his death, The Times remembered him in an editorial:

Ruben Salazar — His Goals Remain Sep. 1, 1970

Ruben Salazar was a most uncommon man who fought mightily for the cause of a group of underprivileged common men — those of the economically deprived Mexican-American community….We fervently wish he were here with us today, to help explain what really happened…. Sometimes Mr. Salazar, who joined the Spanish language TV station KMEX last April, was an angry man, and properly so, as he observed the inequities around him. Yet he spoke out with a calm vigor that made his words all the more impressive — and influential…. For as Rep. Ed Roybal (D-Los Angeles), one of the few Mexican-Americans in Congress, mourned on learning of his death:”Violence has deprived us of the man who best articulated the necessity for the peaceful pursuit of long overdue social reforms for the Spanish-speaking community in the United States…“One thing we do know, however, is that Ruben Salazar’s burden passes on to each one of us who remain behind, and we must continue to peacefully pursue his goals of social reform with steadfast determination.”Those are big goals. He was a big man.


Lopez, quoted above, wrote on Sep. 6, 1970 of Salazar’s optimism and importance to the Chicano community:

Ruben Salazar Death Silences a Leading Voice of ReasonIn his weekly columns for The Times he somehow managed the amazing feat of “bugging the establishment” while still giving his fellow Chicanos some shred of hope that the system might possibly work. There was great soul in his writing, a gentle irony that could chide the gabacho and chicano with equal and unfailing affection. Thus, even the most angry militant Brown Beret could trust him, because he knew where Ruben’s heart was — that it was always beating at the very core of la raza.So when that fatal bullet-like missile struck him down in the searing violence of the East Los Angeles riot, instantly killing him as he was covering the story right where the action was, we Chicanos suffered a terrible loss — an irreparable loss. He was our only established newspaper columnist, the most experienced and articulate Chicano writer in this whole country. Such a loss no community can afford….One might expect that he would die as he did, getting as close as he could to stage-center as the rioting progressed from one violent phase to another, perhaps interviewing one of the fugitive rioters at the very moment he was killed….

The final editorial mentions The Times made of Salazar at that sad time involve the investigation into his death. In both pieces The Times advocates that law enforcement officials disclose the facts of Salazar’s death and take full responsibility for prematurely ending the life of a promising man.

Salazar Facts Still UnknownOct. 7, 1970The protracted inquest into the death of Ruben Salazar established many of the facts that the public should know…But the inquest did not bring out — because the Sheriff’s Department resisted bringing out — whether Dep. Thomas Wilson was acting within the limits of his standing orders when he fired the projectile. The inquest did not bring out — because the Sheriff’s Department resisted bringing out — what the deputy’s standing orders were, and what the department’s procedures are, in regard to the use of tear gas, particularly the use of the specialized, and deadly projectile that killed Salazar…..But there is more at stake here than the legal guilt of one deputy sheriff. In a larger sense, what is at question is the authority, the legitimacy, the credibility of the Sheriff’s Department in the eyes of the people it serves and protects. The death of Salazar has aroused among reasonable men and women serious doubts about the way the department uses weapons, who decides to use them, and when, and why.Let the Facts Be KnownOct. 16, 1970So this is where the matter stands: an innocent man was killed by a weapon that should not have been used when it was used, but the public authorities assign no blame….The public should view with sympathy and understanding the position of a policeman in the midst of a riot. He is in danger; he has to act fast; he is subject to error under stress. He is, of course, responsible for his acts, but the larger responsibility for them belongs to his immediate superiors; ultimately, to the commander himself. It is this ultimate responsibility that Sheriff Pitchess, in denying that anything was wrong, has refused to accept.For something was wrong. The tear-gas projectile that killed Salazar was designed for piercing walls and meant to be used only against barricaded suspects….It was the wrong weapon at the wrong place at the wrong time.