Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 23, 1987)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 23, 1987)

Title – L.A. Latinos need a new Ed Roybal

The recent turn of events in the controversy over the proposed downtown prison makes “leadership ability” the most pressing political qualification in the special election for the First Councilmanic District. For it is clear from Gov. George Deukmejian’s first State of the State address of his second term that his concept of justice begins and ends with “just-us” white Republicans. He will not curb his obsession to dump another prison on the East Side Latinos, even though Crown Coach, the company whose property was the cornerstone of the prison proposal, has sold out to private developers. “In the name of fairness,” the governor said, the fight must not be abandoned.

The governor’s unwavering confidence that he will still get his new prison exposes a crisis in the political leadership among Latinos. It also shows that Latinos should be wary of (***I believe the article is missing a word here although nothing is cut off***) depending on the support of liberal Democrats, though some of them helped block the prison last year, in their struggle against Deukmejian. The temptation to mend political fences in Sacramento and move on to other issues is just too strong. This state of affairs shouldn’t be all that surprising since most political leaders today stand for little, if anything.

What makes Latino leadership so crucial now is that Latinos are passing through the worst of times: Demographers predict that they will replace blacks as the most depressed minority in the United States by the 1990s. Already, the majority of the next two generations of Mexican-Americans living in Los Angeles have been condemned to a life of poverty. Someone should have already sounded the clarion in response to Deukmejian’s sense of “fairness.”

The political plight of Latinos is further aggravated by local politicians and the media whose grasp of the history of the East Side is shaky at best. In the postwar era, developers steadily encroached upon Mexican-American communities in and adjacent to the Civic Center, threatening to wipe them out. The downtown elite oversaw and participated in the destruction of the area’s transit system, thereby increasing the necessity for freeways. Federal policy and money made their construction possible. Suburbia flowered, and whites abandoned the inner city to minorities and the poor.

Five freeways crisscross the East Side. Thousands – 10,000 in Boyle Heights alone – were uprooted to clear the way. One freeway divides Hollenbeck Park, one of the state’s most beautiful, in half because planners wanted to avoid demolishing a brewery. Simultaneously, plans were made to redevelop most of the East Side. The planners did not, however, address such needs as public housing for the poor. Indeed, the “ethic” of the time sanctioned the practice of taking land away from Latino and other landowners to sell to private developers at well below market prices.

Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine stand as testimonials to the concept of fairness that Republicans and Democratic politicians regularly support. In the case of Bunker Hill, occupants were forced to sell their homes without any guarantee of – or the means to buy – comparable housing elsewhere. In Chavez Ravine, sheriff deputies forcibly removed families to give Walter O’Malley and his Dodgers the 300 acres the city promised to lure the team from Brooklyn.

The media rationalized this plunder by portraying the Latino community as economically blighted, crime-ridden and gang-infested. Such a view had made it politically easy – environmental impact reports were not required, for example – to locate waste disposal sites, prisons and public facilities in the area. And implementing those mandates often involved police brutality.

The only elected Latino official in the city was Edward R. Roybal, who served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1949-1962. His active support of progressive civil rights causes quickly earned him the wrath of the downtown elite when he opposed a loyalty oath for city employees during the McCarthy hysteria. Throughout his tenure, Roybal led the Mexican-American community in condemning police brutality, the downtown elite and the forced removal of urban families. In the case of Chavez Ravine, he focused public attention on the uprooting of families there.

But Roybal’s finest hour came in January 1960, when the late Los Angeles Police Chief William H. Parker testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In his testimony, the chief asserted that since Mexicans were genetically prone toward crime, his department’s aggressive tactics were justified: “Some of these people (Mexicans) were here before we were, but some are not far removed from the wild tribes of the district of the inner mountains of Mexico.”

Roybal attended and led numerous rallies demanding Parker’s removal and/or his apology. But council members lined up behind Parker, accusing Roybal of being disruptive. All the local newspaper editorialized that Roybal was fomenting racial discord. (For the record, Parker never apologized.)

Today, there are three East Side Latinos in the California Assembly, one in the state Senate, another on the City Council and a dozen or so judges. Combined, they have not even approached the leadership standard set by Roybal. Generally, they have played it safe. Nowhere is this more evident than in their close relationships with Roybal’s old nemesis – the developers.

The downtown prison is thus important in the First Councilmanic District race because it underscores the desperate need for a new Roybal. The community cannot afford to elect another representative who stands for little or who merely defends the monied interests. For Latinos, the choice is between Los Angeles Board of Education member Larry Gonzalez and Assembly woman Gloria Molina. The question that should be uppermost in the voter’s minds is which one can revive and carry on the Roybal tradition.