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"And Justice for All: Part III": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On law enforcement mistreatment/discrimination Mexican Americans.

Digital ID



man000977. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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Remember, a long time ago, I reminded you that Jimmy Carter, while President of the United States, said at a film festival in New York that: "What the rest of the world knows about America it learns from the movies"? Well, its true. Furthermore, what many of us who live in this country know about America wewearn in the movies. As a nation, we watch more movies-- either irHthe theaters or on television--than we read books. We know very little about our country. Part of the cause of thisB's laziness and anotheW of the many causes is confusion.
There are many Americans, of all shapes, sizes, colors, religious persuasions and all the rest who are not convinced that their country cares about them. A conscious or unconscious reaction to that perception is to not consciously care about the country. Such a stance is unreasonable. It is also detrimental to us. Because of our lack of knowledge of the country we place ourselves in a position to be brutalized by some of those who are in positions of leadership, who know something of the history of this place and who use our ignorance of it against us. We don't even know when it is happening. Afterwards, however, we realize that there is something wrong but we Must cannot ''put our finger on it."
A few years ago I watched a Chuch Norris movie titled "Lone Wolf.1'1 Itcc was a typical Norris fiIm—filled with excitement; martial arts, shootouts, chase scenes, machoman- talk, butt kicking, killing and general mayhem. The role played by Norris is that of a Texas Ranger who is seeking to make the area safe for law abiding citizens. Taking on such a task is admirable and, as usual, as it is presented in the movies, such characters can do no wrong. If we allow ourselves to go beyond what the movies presents, even when it is the exposure of a rogue cop, we then allow ourselves to look at those representations with an historical eyei The Texas Rangers, under such scrutiny,
does not fare very wel1.
Years ago, the portion of the United States which we commonly refer to as the west was part of Mexico. Of course, the Spanish had, shall we say, appropriated the land from its original owners. As far back as 1492 Columbus had claimed all of the lands in the hemisphere in the name of the Spanish crown. For over three hundred years the Spanish dominated the region we know as the southwest and western United States. They did more than conquer the territory. Because so few of the Conquistadores brought wives with them to America, they spent a considerable amount of time conquering the women who were native to the region. Their miscegenous activities introduced to America an entirely new group of people. We know them as Mexicans. They are not "Indian" nor are they Spaniards. They originated here.
Less than a quarter of a century following Mexico's independence from Spain, anglo Americans began to migrate to her northeastern province in 1820. By the mid 1830s those newcomers decided to break away from Mexico. That attempt required the war for Texas independence. Most of us know very little about that war except what we've seen in the movies as it relates to the Alamo. Even though we do not know exactly when (the actual date is March 6, 1836) the battle of the Alamo took place. There were 187 defenders of the Alamo and among them were some Mexicans and they were pitted against an army of 3,000 led by General Santa Anna.
The Mexican army, in seeking to defend its land and keep it from being taken away, did what every military tactician is taught to do; attack when your strength is greater than that of your enemy. Doing so, they achieved a great military triumph. In the United States, that victory was described as being a "bloody massacre." Simple rhetoric. It was, however, presented as being
necessary in order to generate an extreme degree of emnity against Mexicans.
The following month on 21 April at the battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston led his followers into battle with the cry, "Remember The Alamo." They did and Texans and others in the southwest have not forgotten it yet. fflexas did become independent and ten years later that independence proved to be one ofl the major steps leading to the war with Mexico. That war was declared on 1'3 May, 1836 and ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on 2 February 1848.
What had been a part of:Mexico became a part of the United States. An entirely different system of laws were putEnto effect and those of Mexican ancestry found themselves quasi citizens of a new country and with no rithts that were protected. It was open season on Mexicans and the original Texas Rangers had a part of their responsibility to "Remember the Alamo."
For almost a century, Mexican Americans were oppressed by the law in those places where their numbers were significant. In places where there were fewer Mexican Americans, they lived in constant fear of either being brutalized by the local citizenry or the law enforcement agencies. They were unable even to defend or protect themselves. A recent film "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" gives a splendid example of their relationship with local law enforcement.
Most Mexican Americans remember or have heard about the event which is generally referred to as the "Zoot Suits Riots" which took place in Los Angeles shortly after the outbreak of World War II. Mexican American youngsters, who participatedEn the dress style of wearing zoot suits were set upon by soldiers and sailors stationed in the Los Angeles area, ■hey were beaten even as the police stood by and watched. Afterwards, they, the victims, were arrested for disturbing the peace. Rarely can one find a greater mokery of justice. Those of Mexican ancestry had to live with that treatment in spite of the fact that they were victims. During long periods it was not safe for those of Mexican ancestry to venture out of their homes. They were targets for no othe^ reason
than that of their being Mexican and the law did little to protect them. As
we consider the impact of that event along with the many, many others stretch- all the way back to the Alamo and extending on to today, there is little wonder that many in the Mexican American communities of this country have such little respect for "LAW AND ORDER."
Law enforcement must redefine itself in order to be perceived by those who have been oppressed by it. While law enforcement may be waiting for those who have been wronged to take the first step toward reconciliation such a step must initially be taken by them. It is the responsibility of law enforcement to prove that it is fair in its treatment of all citizens. The burden is on them and the public at large must insist that it does so because the public at-large is at risk.