east los angeles high school walkouts

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The Brown Berets, or “Los Boinas Marrones,” openly call for Chicano Power, which they articulate as a call for freedom, prosperity, and peace for Chicano people. The Brown Berets have been active across a range of specific issues important to Chicano communities, including efforts to promote educational equality, immigrant rights and marches against police brutality.

Follow this link to find a bundle of pictures related to the Brown Berets

Brown Berets Hail 'La Raza' and Scorn the Establishment by Ruben Salazar for the Los Angeles Times (June 16, 1969)

David Sánchez, prime minister of the Brown Berets, was at the East Los Angeles Free Clinic when he learned two of his top aides, along with eight other people, had been indicted for involvement in disturbances and fires set in the Biltmore April 24.

The fires in several floors of the hotel were started just before Gov. Reagan was to address a Mexican-American educator’s conference. The disturbances occurred during the governor’s speech.

Authorities say a rookie policeman who had infiltrated the militant Chicano organization tipped off police and firemen in advance, which probably prevented a catastrophe.

“It looks bad all right,” Sanchez said about the indictments, “but La Raza (the race) will understand. La Raza knows it’s just another maneuver by The Man to destroy us.”

Sánchez, voicing the unanimous sentiment of Brown Beret leadership, says he doesn’t care what “the white establishment or press” thinks of the organization. But, he adds, if it is true that his ministers of information and discipline were involved in arson “they did it as individuals and not as Brown Berets.”

The East Los Angeles Free Clinic at 5106 E. Whittier Blvd. was opened by the Brown Berets May 31 with financial help from the Ford Foundation.

Sánchez says the sparsely furnished facility was modeled after the Fairfax Free Clinic in Hollywood and is offering free medical, social and psychological services to Mexican-Americans with volunteer help of professionals. Indicted himself for his part in the East Los Angeles High School walkouts last year, Sánchez, 20, looks like a clean-cut Mexican-American boy.

But he’s much more complicated than that. He heads a tightly knit, quasi-military organization of about 60 disciplined youths which the police consider dangerous.

Besides Los Angeles, the Brown Berets claim to have chapters in 27 other cities including Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Berkeley, Oxnard, Denver, Albuquerque and San Antonio. The members range in age from 14 to 35.

At a recent Chicano youth liberation conference in Denver, at which many Brown Berets participated mostly as security guards, about 1500 Chicano youths from the five Southwestern states adopted a statement of beliefs which condemned the “brutal gringo invasion of our territories.”

Brown Berets look up to the leadership of Reies López Tijerina, the New Mexico land grants crusader, and Rodolfo (Corky) Gonzáles, leader of the Denver-based civil rights organization, the Crusade for Justice. Both men preach ethnic nationalism and separatism.

Admirers of César Chávez

“We especially admire César Chávez (the farm labor leader) for his advocacy of nonviolence,” Sanchez says.

The Brown Beret manual, however, indicates the organization does not entirely condemn violence as does Chávez.

The manual says: “If those Anglos in power are willing to (give Chicanos their rights) in a peaceful and orderly process, then we will be only too happy to accept this way. Othenwise, we will be forced to other alternatives.”

The manual also points out that there are three ways to apply pressure: by direct communication with persons or agencies “you wish to change,” by “demonstrations or pickets” or “by any and all means necessary.”

As if remembering the rule in the Brown Beret manual which says, “The problem is not a problem, it is a situation that must be dealt with,” Sánchez perked up. 

Legal Defense Needed

“Our job now is to get adequate legal defense,” Sánchez said. The phone rang often and Sánchez would usually answer. “Raise the money for bail,” Sánchez said into the phone several times.

In the clinic’s outer office were Rona Fields, an instructor of educational psychology and sociology at San Fernando Valley State College, and her husband, Charles Fox, a political science teacher at Cal State Los Angeles.

Without commenting on the indicments, Miss Fields, who goes by her maiden name for professional reasons, agreed with Sanchez that the authorities are out to destroy the Brown Berets.

“In the context of East Los Angeles, the Brown Berets can be compared to the Israeli youth underground,” Miss Fields said.

Miss Fields Tells Views

A wiry Jewish woman with intense light eyes, Miss Fields, who hopes to write her Ph.D. dissertation on the Brown Berets, has written:

As an organization the Brown Berets are continually confronted with the established institutions in a social matrix which rigidifies structures and becomes irrelevant through antiquation before new institutions can be enacted.

“The consequent frustration would apparently provide only two alternatives for the Chicano youth - acquiescence to the established order, which would include acceptance of assimilation, or violence, either revolutionary style or delinquency.

"The Brown Berets are trying to develop a third alternative. This third alternative is embodied in the East Los Angeles Free Clinic. This alternative is to create new institutions which are devised to be flexible, to be continually responsive to the community and which grow out of and for the needs of the community as the community sees them.”

There is no doubt that the Brown Berets have rejected the first alternative Miss Fields talks about – assimilation. “There are very few Gabachos (Anglos) who don’t turn me off,” says Sánchez. “To the Anglo, justice means just us.”

In the Brown Beret manual, written by Sánchez, when he was in jail for disturbing the peace, appears a statement which must be memorized by every Brown Beret.

“For over 120 years the Mexican-American has suffered at the hands of the Angle establishment. He is discriminated against in schooling, housing, employment and in everyr other phase of life. Because of this situation, the Mexican-American has become the lowest achiever of any minority group in the entire Southwest.”

It’s when you discuss the second alternative that the Brown Berets are vague.

“We’re not a violent or a nonviolent organization,” says Sánchez, we are an emergency organization.“

What does that mean?

"Well, if we see a cop beating up a Chicano we move in and stop the cop,” Sánchez says. “We try to be ready for every emergency.”

But the testimony to the county grand jury by the undercover policeman Fernando Sumaya would indicate the Chicano militant organization is definitely violence-oriented.

Sumaya’s Account

Sumaya, 23, told the grand jury that the day of the Biltmore fires, he attended a meeting at East Los Angeles College with the Brown Berets and friends where guerrilla warfare tactics and civil disobedience were discussed.

According to Sumaya, Carlos Montez, 21, the Brown Berets’ minister of information, interrupted the meeting, saying the group shouldn’t just sit around talking about guerrilla warfare tactics but should put them into practice.

Sumaya said Montez urged the group to begin that night at the Biltmore, when Gov. Reagan was to speak.

Indicted with Montez and eight non-Brown Berets was Ralph Ramírez, I9, the Berets’ minister of discipline.

Original Leaders

Sánchez, Montez and Ramírez are the original leadership of an organization which began in 1967 as Young Citizens for Community Action. As it became militant, the organization’s name evolved into the Young Chicanos for Community Action and then the Brown Berets.

Sánchez, who was president of Mayor Sam Yorty’s Advisory Commission on Youth in 1967, still lives with his parents in a neat, well-furnished home (including a color TV set) in East Los Angeles.

On the wall of the living room is one of those silk souvenir banners service men buy for their mothers or sweethearts. This one was sent to Sánchez’ mother by her other son, Michael, 23, who recently returned from fighting in Vietnam.

Well-Kept Home

The well-kept lower middle-class home is in sharp contrast to the Brown Beret headquarters at 47I5 E. Olympic Blvd. where Sánchez spends much of his time after attending classes at Cal State Los Angeles.

The headquarters windows are boarded up and revolutionary posters pasted on them. Inside, the walls are covered with murals depicting Mexican-Indian civilizations.

On one wall is the startling legend in large black letters “Por mi raza mato.” (For my race, I kill.) The organization was recently given an eviction notice by the landlord. The previous Brown Beret headquarters on Soto St. was bombed last Christmas Eve.

Montez Background

Montez, who tends to be the organization’s visionary used to work as an assistant Teen Post director, lives near Sanchez’ home and is a native of Mexico. A lean, intense young man who often sports a Zapata moustache, Montez is noted for his articulateness on the Chicano movement and his wit. 

Ramírez, a beefy and laconic young tough, often travels to New Mexico from where his family came and likes to identify with the Indian as well as the Chicano.

“We try to bring about changes to help our people by working through conventional channels, including war on poverty programs,” says Sánchez. “But we soon found out the insensitivity and corruption of establishment bureaucracy and left in disgust.”

Open Coffee Shop

Changing their organization’s name to Young Chicano Youths for Community Action, Sánchez, Montez and Ramírez opened up a coffee house, La Piranya, in late 1967 with the help of an interfaith church organization.

By now the Young Chicano Youths for Community Action had taken on an ethnic nationalism image and were openly feuding with the Sheriffs Department and the police.

The coffee house served as an office and meeting hall. Reies Tijerina, César Chávez and black militants H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and Ron Karenga met there with the group which by now had adopted its present name, the Brown Berets.

Plagued by inadequate licensing, curfew violations, insuffcient funds and “police harassment,” La Piranya closed on March 3, 1968, three days before the East Los Angeles High School walkouts.

At the time of the walkouts, Sánchez denied that the Brown Berets were, as the police charged, among the “outside agitators” who helped cause the student disturbances.

“The Chicano students were the main action group,” Sánchez says. “The Brown Berets were at the walkouts to protect our younger people. When they (law officers) started hitting with sticks, we went in, did our business, and got out.”

The “business” Sánchez explains, means that “we put ourselves between the police and the kids, and took the beating." 

Shock Troops

Sánchez says the Brown Berets, which could be called the shock troops of the Chicano movement, think and feel so alike that "we need few words to communicate with each other.”

Most of the members were once “batos locos,” literally barrio gang toughs, successors to the zootsuiters of the I940s.

“The Brown Berets recruit from the rebels without a cause and make them rebels with a cause,” says Sánchez.

The Brown Beret Manual stresses personal cleanliness, strict discipline, prohibition of drugs and excessive drinking and strict attendance at “all meetings, all demonstrations and drills.”

“I wear the Brown Beret,” says the organization’s pledge, “because it signifies my dignity and pride in the color of my skin and race.”

Because of the presumed close-knit makeup of the Brown Berets, it came as quite a shock to them that they had been infiltrated by the police.

On May 10, before the Biltmore fires, Sumaya, the police infiltrator, and three others who Sánchez says were trying to become Brown Berets but were not, were arrested following a fire at an East Los Angeles Safeway store.

Sumaya said he tipped off the police but allowed himself to be arrested for security reasons. The other three have been indicted by the grand jury.

As for Sumaya, Sánchez says “his mind has been messed with - the poor guy is trying to be a white Anglo.”

“I was in jail when he joined the Brown Berets last December,” Sánchez said. “It is a clear case of entrapment. It is obvious that he designed and manufactured the events that led to the indictments.”

“The day after the fires he told me how it was he who removed the battery from the Biltmore elevator to stop it. He said he was afraid the hotel manager might have seen him but he really bragged about his part.”
Sánchez said he started suspecting Sumaya early “because he would never be with me by himself. He always had someone with him.”

The Brown Beret leader said he then had someone call Sumaya’s old school in Calexico. Posing as a potential employer, the Brown Beret asked where Sumaya’s school transcripts had been sent.

The school said thev had been mailed to an Alhambra adult school. Using the same ruse, the Brown Berets learned Sumaya’s transcripts were then sent to the Los Angeles Police Deparment.

One day a Brown Beret called Sumaya’s home and asked whether S-257, Sumaya’s code name, was there, according to Sánchez. Told that he was, the Beret instructed the officer to report to Hollenbeck Police Station. When Sumaya reported there, the Brown Berets were sure they had been infiltrated.

Other Infiltration

At a recent news conference at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club, Sánchez claimed two other law-enforcement officers infiltrated the Brown Berets. The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, financed by the Ford Foundation, says it is interested in looking into the Brown Berets’ charge of entrapment.

Asked whether the Brown Berets would retaliate against Sumaya if they could, Sánchez said: “No, he’s got a wife and a family and he was doing what he thought was his job. Besides, we don’t do things which will be used by the press merely for the entertainment of the white middle class.”

On the issue of anti-Anglo sentiment, the Brown Beret leadership is unequivocal. They say they don’t care what the “white establishment or press” thinks of the organization. “Our only concern is Chicanos,” said Sánchez. 

Dangerous Aspect

This extreme ethnic nationalism, say some concerned observers, is what could be the most dangerous aspect of the Brown Berets. Admired by activists and high school students, the Brown Berets are working hard to polarize “Chicano youth.”

In a study by social scientists Fields and Fox it is pointed out that “the militancy of the Brown Berets is not much different from that of the Students for Democratic Society (SDS), Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the earlier Israeli Youth in Palmach.”

“As for the group (Brown Berets) as it is currently constituted, its main concern is to achieve an interfactional unity which would, through presenting a unified front, give Chicanos a modicum of political power at least comparable to the current Negro condition…,” the study said.

– by Ruben Salazar