Category Archives: Op-eds

Blogs and op-eds prior to 2017

Los Angeles Herald Examiner April 28, 1989

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner April 28, 1989

Title – “The fate of East L.A.: One big jail”

If it were a stage play, the final curtain would seem to have fallen, with the governor yielding to the public will, the little people sipping champagne and the press boasting about how the system works.

On April 5, the Environmental Impact Report Certification Panel rejected, by vote of 2-0, the EIR for the proposed downtown prison in East L.A., with Gov. George Deukmejian’s appointee abstaining. Among other things, the panel found that the report failed to weigh adequately the negative impact the prison would have on hazardous waste, community identity, traffic and property values in East L.A.

But the downtown prison is far from dead. The Department of Corrections has three months to either amend the EIR or come up with a new one. And few political experts expect Deukmejian to do the rational thing and find another site, which would be tantamount to surrender.

Problem is the Department of Corrections, in an unprecedented move, bought the land for the proposed prison before conducting an EIR, spending $14.6 million – high even at L.A. prices – for fewer than 14 acres. Ironically, the Department of Corrections could have had land in Hungry Valley for virtually nothing.

The Department of Corrections, according to reliable sources, already has spent $500,000 to $600,000 for two worthless EIRs. If it decides to continue its relentless assault on the East Side, the department will surely spend another $500,000 for an amended or a new environmental report.

The governor’s insistence on an East L.A. prison is even more irrational when considered in the context of his other law-and-order policies. For example, Deukmejian’s proposed ’89-90 budget would cut state funds for county probation camps from $67.3 million to $30.4 million. If enacted, the reduction would force L.A. County to eliminate youth rehabilitation camps that currently house marginal offenders. As a result, 1,660 boys and 110 girls would be shipped off to more draconian California Youth Authority camps, where rehabilitation would be much more difficult.

This proposed cut highlights Deukmejian’s contradictory approach to law and order. If the purpose of a justice system is to rehabilitate, it is patently irrational to throw young first offenders into warehouses that society has allowed to deteriorate into crime schools, where kids are dared to sal si puedes (“get out if you can”).

The implications of Deukmejian’s policies for Latinos are even more appalling. Most studies indicate that, by the year 2000, 90 percent of the state adult prison population will be people of color. Census data also suggest that Latinos will be poorer and make up some 40 percent of the state’s population. All of which means that a majority of those caged in our prisons will be Latinos.

Today, roughly 75 percent of the L.A. prison population is warehoused on the East Side, which has become a popular dumping ground for local, state and federal correctional facilities. Either by accident or design, these prisons represent the future that the Deukmejians of California see for Latinos.

No matter how you cut it, the victims are – and will be – Latinos, both inside and outside the area’s jails. Consider that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department wants to expand its East Side County Jail to house 4,000 more inmates. The department had wanted to build a jail in the Lancaster area to handle the overload. But when Democrats applied their equal-pain doctrine – approved a state prison for downtown L.A. only if one were built in the white Republican Lancaster community – the county facility was pre-empted. So the Sheriffs Department is taking the easy way out by enlarging what is already one of the largest jails – 8,000 inmates – in the United States. No matter what happens, then, the system is working against East Side residents: Their community seems destined to become one big jail.

It is fair to wonder if the governor would act so irrationally if the East Side community were Armenian rather than Latino. Understandably, he deplores the Armenian genocide. He played a prominent role in sending aid to the quake victims in Soviet Armenia.

But isn’t it long past time for the governor to pay equal attention to the plight of Latinos who live in his state and are victimized by his policies? Deukmejian should begin his sensitivity training by reading a history of the region. He would learn that many of us were here long before his ancestors got off the boat.

Meanwhile, Latinos should demand a little perestroika – and insist that the governor put the state prison in Hungry Valley.

Herald Examiner (July 7, 1989)

From – Herald Examiner (July 7, 1989)

Title – “The Armageddon in our backyard”

L.A.’s quick-fix approach to disposing of hazardous wastes is leading us toward an ecological Armageddon – in the poorest communities. Consider the proposed hazardous waste incinerator in Vernon.

They city is surrounded by one of the most densely populated areas in the county – East L.A. In Vernon itself, however, there are 90 residents.

That’s because the city was built for industry. Leslie Salt, Oscar Mayer, Farmer John, Vienna Hot Dogs and 7 Up/RC Cola all have warehouses or food-packaging plants there. Many lesser known companies have manufacturing facilities.

There are few restrictions on business operations in Vernon. That probably helps explain why the city was the county’s leading polluter in 1987, disgorging 27 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, land and sewers. The city of Los Angeles discharged 3 ½ times less.

Choosing Vernon as the site of a $29 million commercial hazardous-waste incinerator, the first of its kind in a major metropolitan area, should have set off alarm bells. For starters, building a plant capable of burning 22,500 tons of hazardous wastes annually in a city that is already a notorious polluter borders on the bizarre. Furthermore, these materials will have to be trucked into Vernon on some of the most congested freeways in the world, and accidents are bound to happen.

Yet, state and federal regulatory agencies didn’t even exercise minimal caution. In 1987, both the Southern California Air Quality Management District and the state Department of Health Services declared that the incinerator would have no significant impact on the surrounding environment. Thus, California Thermal Treatment Services, the plant owner, wasn’t required to file an Environmental Impact Report.

The Vernon incinerator would be belching pollutants today had Assemblywoman Lucile Roybal-Allard not told the Mothers of East Los Angeles about the proposal. The Mothers, already fighting to block plans to build a downtown prison and an above-ground oil pipeline from Santa Barbara to Long Beach that would have conspicuously circumvented Santa Monica, were outraged at the prospect of having 125,000 pounds of toxic waste burned daily in their backyards. So they took to the streets.

In December 1987, the Mothers led 500 community folks into a Department of Health Services hearing to demand an EIR. The department temporarily relented. But several months later, it caved in to pressure from California Thermal. New safety tests, Health Services claimed, showed the incinerator wouldn’t be a threat to the community or to the environment, so no EIR was necessary.

In early 1988, after two toxic-chemical accidents on the East Side forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and the Mothers got the attention of some the state’s highest political officials, the AQMD refused to extend California Thermal’s incinerator permits unless an EIR was conducted by an independent contractor. The district additionally required a new assessment of the health-risk factor posed by the plant. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the company the Vernon permits without an EIR.

California Thermal successfully took the AQMD to court. Superior Court Judge Kurt Lewin ordered the district to issue the permits without a full EIR. Said Lewin, “Construction of such facilities cannot be postponed indefinitely, nor can they be continuously relocated to someone else’s bailiwick.”

Lewin then insulted the Latino community. The incinerator, said the judge, was like the Mexican pyramids: It represented progress. (The pyramids, it should be noted, were often built by forced labor.) The AQMD is appealing Lewin’s ruling.

The events surrounding the proposed hazardous-waste incinerator in Vernon are best understood in the context of a 1987 study by the United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice. Titled “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States,” the report says that 15 million blacks and 8 million Latinos live in communities with one or more licensed toxic-waste sites. Interestingly, a 1984 report, prepared by Cerrell and Associates for the California Waste Management Board, advises government and industry to target “lower socioeconomic neighborhoods” for disposal sites.

So it was with the Vernon incinerator. But environmental racism, like other forms of racism, ultimately victimizes all of us – and may even kill us.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (September 1, 1989)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (September 1, 1989)

Title – “Latinos’ worst enemy”

Thank God for small favors.

The rioting in Lincoln Park during last year’s Cinco de Mayo festivities apparently has forced park officials and Latino politicos to rethink the propriety of the Roman circuses sponsored by the Miller Brewing Co. Hopefully, these public servants will, in the end, do more than reflect and will join the growing number of Latinos already deeply concerned about the alcohol crisis in their community. The problem can’t be cured by just saying “no.”

The reasons for the absence of a full discussion of alcohol abuse among Latinos are threefold. One, many Latinos are reluctant to reinforce racial and cultural stereotypes of Latinos as drunks. Two, there is a growing dependency among Latino organizations, Spanish-language media and politicos on beer-industry revenues, which fosters silence. Finally, the lack of Latino political clout has meant few programs and studies dealing with the problem, thereby creating an information crisis.

Latino alcohol abuse, however, can no longer be ignored. The few studies available on Latino drinking universally establish that Latinos have higher rates of disease associated with alcohol abuse – cirrhosis of the liver, for one – than the general population. A 1975 review of autopsies performed from 1908 to 1970 at USC Medical Center found that 58 percent of Mexican-American male deaths between the ages of 30 and 60 were the result of alcoholism. Among whites, the rate was 24 percent, blacks, 22 percent. Other studies confirm that Mexicans die earlier than other groups from alcohol abuse.

Latinos also have higher rates of arrest for driving, public drunkenness and homicides while under the influence.

Disturbingly, Dr. Juana Mora of the L.A. County Office of Alcohol Programs has recently noted an increase in drinking among Latino adolescents. Other researchers have established a link between Latino teen drinking and school performance. An article published in 1982 found that 46 percent of Latino students who reported a grade average of “D” or “F” drank excessively.

Too many non-Latinos explain these sad statistics by arguing that Mexican culture permits, if not exults, heavy drinking by Mexican males. From such an absurd conception it is easy to conclude that the Latino drinking problem can be solved by getting rid of Mexican culture. Yet, Latinos are no different from other Catholic immigrants whose drinking patterns changed only after their income and education levels rose.

Truth be told, it is the liquor industry, not Mexican culture, that glamorizes alcohol consumption. While many industries ignored the Latino market, the liquor companies, especially the brewers, didn’t. Today, with nearly 20 million Latinos living in the United States, the Latino market is huge. According to Hispanic Business, Latinos spent $141.6 billion last year.

A soon-to-be-released report – “Marketing Disease to Hispanics: The Selling of Alcohol, Tobacco and Junk Foods to Hispanics” – documents the industry’s strategy. According to Professor Marilyn Aguirre-Molina of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, “The one thing that the [liquor industry has] focused on in the Latino market is really understanding the cultural nuances of family, friends and drinking patterns. [It knows] more about our culture than I think health-services providers know.”

The report for the Center for Science in the Public Interest also asserts that “The connection between the targeting of Hispanics by tobacco and alcohol companies and increasing smoking and drinking seems too clear to dispute. The alcohol and tobacco companies like to claim there’s no connection, that they advertise not to hook new drinkers and smokers but only to preserve their market share and steal market share from other brands.”

In California, there are 70,000 retail outlets selling booze. That’s roughly one for every 200 drinkers. In lower-income Latino communities, there are five times as many liquor stores as in middle-class neighborhoods.

It seems absurd that a physician can be sued for malpractice, a bar owner for serving a customer one too many but that the liquor companies face no risk for creating an “alcohol environment.”

It’s time for the Latino community to understand why the beer companies sponsor alcohol-abuse programs, contribute to Latino scholarship funds, orchestrate banquets for Latino mainstream organizations and foot the bill for Cinco de Mayo and 16th of September events. In the past five years alone, five Latino students at Cal State Northridge have been killed on their graduation night in alcohol-related accidents. I wish the Latino beer-company representatives would visit these kids’ parents and tell them about their public service and scholarship aid.



The Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 15, 1987)

From – The Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 15, 1987)

Title – “Put Cinco de Mayo on the wagon”

Author – Rodolfo Acuña

Twenty years ago, Cinco de Mayo was an event largely unknown outside the schools and parks of the Mexican-American community. It is now a part of the culture of the Southwest. This month, both barrio and yuppie bars advertised Cinco de Mayo “Happy Hours,” and margaritas and beer flowed freely. In good old American fashion, the celebration has been packaged and marketed to the public. And therein lies a problem.

Latinos visiting Mexico during Cinco de Mayo week are shocked to discover that Mexicans hardly note the day. After all, Cinco de Mayo commemorates just one victory – though brilliantly orchestrated by Texas-born Gen. Ignacio Zaragosa – over the French. The battle itself had little effect on the course of Mexican history. Its importance is largely symbolic.

Mexicans in the United States have celebrated Cinco de Mayo since the late 19th century, when Mexican patriotic associations, mutual-aid societies and other organizations sponsored the festivities. More often than not the speakers came from the ranks of the local Mexican elite. A strong strain of nationalism dominated the proceedings. The virtues of Mexican culture were extolled.

After World War I, the focus of the celebrations gradually changed. With the growth of Mexican-American middle-class organizations, composed largely of second-generation Mexicans, assimilation into American society became a dominant theme at Cinco de Mayo events. Scholarships were awarded; beauty contests held. By World War II, this cycle was almost complete. The American flag was often seen flying alongside Mexico’s.

In the 1960s, a nationwide revival of Chicano nationalism again changed the emphasis at Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Chicano activists and their struggle for civil rights were praised. Cesar Chavez and his farm workers became heroes. In response to the demands of Chicano students, universities and colleges picked up the speaking tabs of such activists as Corky Gonzales and Jose Angel Gutierrez.

Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, social activism declined, and, as a result, Cinco de Mayo again changed its colors. Enter the beer companies. Recognizing that Latinos comprised the biggest beer-drinking market in California, they developed a plan to expand their sales even more. According to Jim Hernandez, director of the California Hispanic Commission on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the brewers adopted what is now known as the “Budweiser strategy”: Make alcohol a staple of Latino social life.

“Historical” calendars, which depicted Mexican-American yuppies as the new Chicanos, were published and widely distributed by the brewers. Beer ads in the form of plaques, signs and placemats turned up in Mexican restaurants and bars. Fund-raising organizations received free beer; Latino conferences were underwritten by breweries. Menudo without beer became unthinkable.

The situation reached a new low two years ago when leading Mexican-American national organizations – the National Council of La Raza, the American G.I. Forum and later the League of United Latin American Citizens – signed an agreement with the Coors Brewing Company. In return for calling off a national boycott, Coors promised to give more than $350 million to Latino organizations and to the community. Coors suddenly had become a good corporate citizen.

But there was no guarantee that Latinos would ever see a cent of the pledged money. That Latinos would consume large quantities of Coors was a certainty. Critics of the agreement devised a new motto for the Chicano movement: “Drink a Coors for La Raza!”

Even more insidious than the Coors pact is the mindset of the middle-class organizations that signed on the dotted line. The leaders of La Raza, for example, no longer live next door to the poor who pick up the tab. By agreeing to take Coors’ word at face value, they unconsciously undermined the very values and institutions they pledged to preserve.

Alcoholism is a major problem in the Latino community. Pathetically outdated studies show that it is a greater health hazard there than in either the black or white communities. It destroys families, despoils the culture. The arrest rate for drunkenness is disproportionately high among Mexican-Americans. It is a myth that Mexicans are not drunks but just good drinkers.

To be sure, it would be difficult to tell Latinos not to drink free beer. It would be equally difficult to persuade under-funded grassroots organizations that it is not in their interest to accept help from the beer companies. They need the money to continue their work in the barrio. But the price is too high.

On the weekend before this month’s Cinco de Mayo festivities, Latinos could drive out to Lincoln Park and listen to Tierra, El Chicano and War, as well as other popular performers. They could forget about their personal problems, forget that Cinco de Mayo coincided with the start of the flawed Simpson-Rodino amnesty program. They only had to listen to a drop-in politico tell them how great it was. And there was no charge.

Occasionally, there was the faint cry of “Viva el Cinco de Mayo” and “Viva la Raza!” More often, it was Miller time. Next year, the Latino organizations and politicians who sponsor and participate in Cinco de Mayo events should look harder for other sources of funding. That would be a real victory to celebrate.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 20, 1987)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 20, 1987)

By: Rodolfo F. Acuña

Title – “Police brutality still alive and threatening”

American cities are unsafe places. Crime rates remain high, bus travel can be dangerous and gang warfare frequently counts passers-by among its victims. Fear has created such a public outcry for more and more police protection that questions about the consequences of supporting your local cop – right or wrong – go unheard.

Only occasionally do the media report on police abuse; even rarer is the politicians who criticizes law-enforcement agencies. It’s just not good politics to be perceived as soft on crime.

The reluctance to check police abuse not only means that innocent victims continue to suffer. The people as a whole also are victimized, because prosecuting those who abuse governmental power is that much more difficult. No matter how much we want to ignore it, police brutality is as potent an issue today as it was in 1970, when Los Angeles officers, in a case of mistaken identity, shot and killed Gillermo and Beltran Sanchez in their apartment and when newsman Ruben Salazar was accidentally, though recklessly, killed while covering a Chicano protest of the Vietnam War.

What is different today is that the media are far more inclined to ignore or play down such police abuses, and politicians are even more reluctant to defend the interests of their constituents when they are threatened by police brutality. What has survived from the old days is the Los Angeles district attorney’s refusal to prosecute officers who may have violated Penal Code Section 192, which deals with manslaughter.

The unwillingness to prosecute places an unfair burden on the survivors who are forced to live with the guilt and stigma associated with the “reasonable doubt” that their beloved committed a crime. In order to get a measure of justice, families must hire a lawyer and go to civil court to clear their reputations.

This is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. It may take years just to be heard in court. A family may well succeed in clearing the name of their dead relative, but the system remains unchanged. Is the officer judged negligent in the use of deadly force deterred from doing it again? Not hardly. Officers know that the chance of being prosecuted is slight, and that if they are, the costs of defense zero, since taxpayers pick up the tab. Furthermore, while on trial they still collect their salaries and if punitive damages are awarded, taxpayers will again pay the bill.

Take the case of Jildardo Plasencia, 33. In 1980, the Plasencias hosted a family New Year’s Eve party in their Willowbrook home. The women and girls were in the house, the men and boys in a converted rumpus room in the garage. At about 9 p.m., Jildardo fired two guns and a shotgun into the air to celebrate the approaching New Year.

At roll call that evening, sheriff’s deputies had been told of this tradition. If they heard gunshots while on patrol, the deputies were instructed to go in, after calling for back up, with lights flashing. The sheriff’s department wanted to avoid an incident. But deputies David Anderson and Sandra Jones took it upon themselves to investigate the source of the gunfire, together in the dark.

According to the deputies, they encountered two men. The first immediately put up his hands; the other, Jildardo, allegedly stood in the garage doorway and pointed a gun at Jones, who shot and killed him. In the next three or four seconds, the deputies fired nine times, seven times through the partially opened garage door. Inside, three men, two teenagers and three boys crouched in terror. When the shooting stopped, Jildardo lay dead with an unloaded revolved in his hand; Juan Santoyo, 18, was wounded in the leg; and 3 year old Jildardo Jr. was struck once in the buttock, and another bullet ruptured his intestines.

A special investigation subsequently cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing. Although mistaken, according to investigators, they had acted reasonably. Witnesses were said to corroborate the officers’ version of the events, though many were characterized as confused. The coroner’s report, based on a blood-splatter test supposedly proved that Jildardo had pointed the gun at Jones. The district attorney refused to follow up.

Six years later, Stella Plasencia, her five children and Santoyo received a judgment of just under $1.4 million. During the civil trial, attorney Samuel Paz refuted the findings of the special investigation on four points. One, that the autopsy had corroborated the deputies’ account that Jildardo had pointed the gun at Jones; it did not. Two, that Jildardo was standing in the garage when he was shot and killed. Three, that the officers had acted “reasonably” in firing blindly at the garage door, Paz showed, the deputies had acted negligently and recklessly. And four, that witnesses supported the deputies’ version of events; in fact, their accounts were distorted when translated by a deputy with a third-grade knowledge of Spanish.

In light of the new evidence, will the district attorney bring charges? To date, no charges have been filled.

Other Latino families are faced with similar ordeals. The family of Arturo Oviedo, 25, for example, is demanding answers concerning the circumstances surrounding his death while in police custody. According to the arrest report, Oviedo was stopped at the Fullerton Mall on Jan. 8 at 1:40 a.m. because he looked like a Ninja warrior. A deputy noticed a syringe protruding from one of Oviedo’s gloves. Oviedo was then said to have run from the deputies, who pursued him. Five officers were eventually needed to restrain Oviedo. Two more syringes were allegedly found. The arrest report also showed that Oviedo was not under the influence of drugs.

Over the next couple of weeks, according to family members, Oviedo was kept under heavy sedation at the Orange County jail medical ward. While there, his public defender plea-bargained the charges against him. When Oviedo was found strangled to death in his cell on Jan. 31, he was serving a five month sentence for assaulting an officer. The family hired a pathologist who found that Oviedo had several broken ribs, a crushed vertebrae and a damaged spinal column. There was no evidence that Oviedo had fought back.

Through news reports, the family has learned that there is reason to believe that Oviedo might have been beaten to death by Thomas Pick, 23, his cellmate. Pick, who has a history of violence, was also the cellmate of another prisoner who died under mysterious circumstances. The Orange County District attorney has since filled criminal charges against Pick in both deaths.

For the Oviedos, many questions remain. Why was Arturo placed in a cell with Pick? Why was Arturo, who had no criminal record, kept sedated? While they wait for the answers, they must live with their grief and with the disturbing hindsight that if only they could have raised the $50,000 bond, Arturo would be alive today.

We all want safe cities. The price should not, however, be the abuse of governmental authority through the negligent use of deadly force.