Grass-roots activists knew that East Los Angeles’ sprawling Mexican American barrio was a community on edge.
For years they had seen bitterness and frustration fester over police brutality, underfunded schools with some of the worst drop-out rates in the nation, biased media coverage, freeway construction that replaced 3,000 homes, and a disproportionate number of Mexican American soldiers returning from Vietnam in body bags.
But even the activists were not prepared for the fury of street warfare that erupted on the hot, smoggy Saturday afternoon of Aug. 29, 1970, when deputies used tear gas and clubs to disperse an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Laguna Park after responding to a minor disturbance at a nearby liquor store.
The biggest, bloodiest disturbance in Los Angeles since Watts five years earlier lasted several hours. When it was over, Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar was dead and two others mortally wounded, about 200 people were under arrest, 75 law enforcement officers and untold numbers of demonstrators were injured, 95 county vehicles were destroyed or damaged, 44 buildings were pillaged and eight major fires had been set.
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