― 1 ―
Dear Governor Warren:
The recent outbreaks of violence against Mexicans and Negroes in Los Angeles, Beaumont, Mobile, Detroit and other parts of the country make it imperative that we bring to your attention the "Sleepy Lagoon Case" in Los Angeles in its relation to these events which, in the words of President Roosevelt "endanger our national unity and comfort our enemies."
The Sleepy Lagoon case began in August, 1942, many months before the violent outbreaks which occurred later on in Los Angeles and other cites. It is our conviction, however, that this case and the atmosphere of Anti-Mexican prejudice and hysteria surrounding it, foreshadowed the horrible events which followed.
On August 3, twenty-four Mexican-American boys were arrested in the city of Los Angeles on the charge of having murdered one, Jose Diaz at the Sleepy Lagoon Ranch just outside the city.
In January, 1943, seventeen of those boys were convicted, twelve for having conspired to murder Diaz, five for assault. They were given sentences ranging from life imprisonment down to a few months.
Their mass trial was permeated with anti-Mexican slander and prejudice both in the court room and in the stories fabricated by the press.
"Mexican Goon Squads", "Zoot-Suit Gangs", "Pachuco Killers", "Juvenile Gang War Laid to Youth's Desire to Thrill" were only a few of the headlines blared forth by the newspapers during this period.
Within the court room an atmosphere of extreme prejudice prevailed. Evidence shows that the boys were beaten and threatened, that
― 2 ―defense attorneys were not permitted to consult their clients, that witnesses were intimidated. The record shows that the boys were forbidden to get hair-cuts or receive clean clothes from home because, as District Attorney Shoemaker put it, "the appearance of the defendants is distinctive." The prosecution, he said, regarded as important evidence "their style of hair-cut, the thick heavy heads of hair, the duck-tail comb, the pachuco pants and things of that kind."
There was no evidence in the whole course of the trial and in the twelve volumes of court record which proved the boys guilty.
Before the trial began, a statement was filed with the Grand Jury by Ed Duran Ayres of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the Sheriff's Office which laid the basis for the conviction of the boys, not in relation to their innocence or guilt, but simply and solely on the basis that they were Mexicans.
Because that statement is the key to, not alone the Sleepy Lagoon Case, but also the so-called "Zoot-Suit Riots" in Los Angeles; because the Hitler theory of race hatred which it projects might well have been the banner for the later riots that swept the country, we believe it essential to briefly quote some parts of it.
Starting with the assumption that there is a "great proportion of crime by a certain element of the Mexican population" (this was roundly denied in a report made by Karl Holton of the Los Angeles Probation Department) Mr. Ayres goes on to look for the "basic cause." After skipping lightly over factors of discrimination in housing, employment, recreation, he states that "the biological basis is the main basis to work from."
Here is part of the argument he uses to substantiate his "biological basis" for Mexican inferiority which he bases on Indian or "Oriental" ancestry:
― 3 ―
Seventeen Mexican-American boys are now serving sentences, three for life and nine for five years to life in San Quentin penitentiary, five for six months to one year in the County Jail; all of them convicted on the basis of mad Hitler-like ravings like the examples quoted above; convicted collectively in accord with the Hitler-like pattern of the
― 4 ―Ayres document which says:
Most of the boys are eighteen and nineteen years old. The oldest is twenty-four. Three of them are married and the fathers of children. One is a defense worker. One has worked for the U.S. Engineering Department in Alaska. One of the boys had already been sworn into the U.S. Navy. Another had joined and was about to be sworn in. He said in a letter from San Quentin:
Governor Warren, we do figure that these boys are "Americans like verybody else born in this country". And we feel sure that the overwhelming majority of the people of the United States — standing firmly behind the win-the-war policies of our Commander-in-Chief — will strive that the 350,000 Mexicans in Los Angeles, the 3,000,000 Spanish speaking people, the 13,000,000 Negroes, the Jews and all other minorities in our country be recognized as "Americans like everybody else". That is the only way we can win this war. That is the only way we can win what we are fighting for.
― 4 ―
Those who are attempting to hamper the full integration of all Americans in the war effort, be it through discrimination on the job, in the army, in housing, in other conditions of life, are giving comfort to the enemy.
Those who foment the racial discord which resulted in Sleepy Lagoon, the Los Angeles riots and other outbreaks of violence throughout the country are sisrupting our national unity, weakening our war effort, obstructing our victory. They are playing Hitler's game, call them by whatever name you will; fifth columnist, sinarquist, fascist.
Sleepy Lagoon stands as a symbol of their success. It is a symbol of injustice, of discrimination, of insurrection. It will remain so while the seventeen Mexican-American boys are held in jail.
The evils of this case and all that it stands for have spread beyond our borders and endanger our Good Neighbor relations with Mexico and the other countries of Latin America.
Only last April those relations were culminated in the historic meeting between President Roosevelt and President Camacho — good neighbors and Allies.
But now Mexican Foreign Minister Padilla states in a letter to Governor Coke R. Stevenson of Texas that he has temporarily been forced to stop the migration of Mexican labor to Texas. He says that discrimination is a "daily occurrence in Texas" and that Mexican workers will be permitted to migrate "when the wave of race prejudice in Texas has passed."
Yes, both nationally and internationally the evils of Sleepy Lagoon are spreading. They must be stopped.
The defense attorneys are now preparing to appeal the case. Their study of the record shows ample grounds for reversal and lack of evidence for the conviction.
― 6 ―
But much more is at stake in this case than justice for seventeen boys. Our internal unity, our Good Neighbor Policy, our United Nations war aims are also on trial. On behalf of these we appeal directly to you. We appeal to your power of executive clemency to release these boys unconditionally and at once.
To the Mexicans in Los Angeles, to the Spanish speaking people, the Negroes, the Jews and other minorities; to all Americans in our country, this action would be the sign that the fascist minded, the pro-Hitlerites are being defeated on the home front as they are now being defeated on the war front..
To our Latin American allies, to our allies of the darker races throughout the world, this action would be a guarantee of the integrity of our war aims.
You, on behalf of the State of California, can set the example, Governor Warren.
By the release of the seventeen Mexican-American boys, the Sleepy Lagoon Case can become synonomous with freedom, justice and democracy for which this war is being fought.
We call upon you, in the name of victory, to free the Sleepy Lagoon defendants.