[caption id="attachment_722" align="alignleft" width="389" caption="Ruben Salazar in 1970. Photo Courtesy of UCLA Library's Digital Collection."][/caption] If we are to believe recent news accounts surrounding a watchdog report on the slaying in 1970 of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at the time were the equivalent of the fictitious Reno sheriff’s department from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” The Times’ pieces on the report in the last few days have used words like “blunders” and “ball dropping” to describe what happened to Salazar, killed when a deputy fired a 10-inch high velocity Flight-Rite missile into the front entrance of the Silver Dollar Café in East Los Angeles. On August 29, 1970, Salazar and fellow KMEX-TV reporter William Restrepo were apparently taking a break from covering riots on Whittier Boulevard following an anti-Vietnam War march and protest when this occurred. As strapped and untrained as the sheriff’s department may have been in those years, I find it hard to believe they were that incompetent. The department’s civilian watchdog report, released on Tuesday, was based on analyzing eight apparently disorganized boxes of documents that had been sitting for more than forty years. It’s a crime in itself that so much time had elapsed before such an investigation could be made. The official story from the report seems to be that there’s no proof that deputies targeted Salazar, a well-known media voice for Chicanos. Well after forty years, what actual proof of this nature would still exist? As far as I’m concerned, the report leaves many questions unanswered, some of the same questions the community has had for forty years. There were statements by twelve bar patrons who said they heard no commands to leave, although a department account of the time said deputies gave such an order. Also a photo exists of a deputy armed with a shotgun forcing patrons back into the bar, although they looked as if they were trying to leave. Incredibly, the bar was not surrounded, leaving the back entrance without deputies, although they were apparently reacting to reports that an armed man had entered the bar. Is this incompetence? Perhaps, but I’m not buying the whole story. Maybe there’s no smoking gun surrounding plans for murder, but Restrepo, who was uninjured, has stated that at the time of Salazar’s death they had been doing reports on law enforcement abuse in the largely Mexican Eastside. And evidence does exist that Salazar was officially seen as some kind of troublemaker for the department. One note reportedly found in the boxes stated, “That (liar) Ruben is spreading bad rumors about us in ELA”—this was from an unnamed sergeant in “intelligence” written about a month before the slaying. Again, we’re left with a mystery. Who was this sergeant? And why was Salazar being investigated? The point is, after forty years of demands for these files to be opened, and not heeded, we finally get a report that exonerates the department of any intentional wrong-doing in Salazar’s death. Yet, even with the incredulous mistakes attributed to one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the country, where’s the accountability? Even blunders have to be the responsibility of someone. After forty long years, there’s still no justice for Ruben Salazar. c/s
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