MEXICANS HAVE FOUND
By J. V. McAREE
WE HAVE noted over a long period that if there is an abuse or an injustice for which the British people have any responsibility,
it is invariably Britons who lead the fight for redress. They do not have to wait to have their delinquencies pointed out
by outsiders. Perhaps we cannot pride ourselves that this is exclusively a British quality based on love of fair play. Other
nations have shown the same strong sense of justice, and we recall the tremendous battle that raged in France among Frenchmen
at the time of the Dreyfus affair. We have another instance in the case of what has been rather dramatically called The Sleepy
Lagoon Mystery. Thousands of American liberals have banded themselves together in an effort to obtain justice for 17 young
Americans of Mexican blood who are at present serving terms of imprisonment of from five years to life for the murder of another
young Mexican named Jose Diaz. Though these youths were convicted of a conspiracy to commit the murder, so far it has not
been proved that there was a murder. Still less has it been proved, according to our own ideas of judicial procedure and the
laws of fair play, that any of the condemned persons were implicated in it.
Travesty of Justice
In fact, according to Guy Endore, who has written a pamphlet on the subject, and the large number of liberals and humanitarians
who are trying to get these youths out of prison, what has happened is a gross miscarriage of justice. They argue that the
boys were arrested, then railroaded to appease a mob spirit aroused by William Randolph Hearst and his California papers.
First the public mind was poisoned against the Mexicans generally; then they were represented as armed gangsters, and the
public mind then having been led to accept the idea that there was a Maxican crime wave in Los Angeles, the stage was set
for what happened to the accused when the body of Diaz was found in August, 1942. Mr. Endore says that at the trial there
was no proof that a murder had been committed. No witness was produced who admitted having seen the murder. No murder weapon
was introduced. No witness appeared to link definitely any of the accused with the death of Diaz. The most reasonable presumption
seems to be that he was struck down by an automobile.
Previous to the tragedy the Hearst papers, on direct instruction from Hearst himself, had been [illegible data] a crime wave
for which Mexicans and Negroes were mainly responsible. The criminals were generally represented as wearing zoot suits. Most
of them were engaged in some sort of war work. One of them was actually on furlough from the navy when arrested. A special
Grand Jury summoned to investigate the crime wave listened to and was convinced by a loud, hysterical dissertation from a
police official who said that crime was a matter of race, and that Mexicans particularly were prone to crime. From an anthropological
point of view this is simply nonsense. It was contradicted by Los Angeles officials, who said that as a matter of fact there
was less juvenile delinquency among the Mexican element than throughout the general population; but there was not much news
value in such statements, whereas there was considerable news value in the notion that the Mexicans in Los Angeles had established
gangs like that of Capone in Chicago.
Beer and Fisticuffs
What seems to be beyond question is that on the night of Diaz' death a company of young Mexicans, male and female, had gone
to a place not far from Los Angeles, whose most popular feature is a body of water known as Sleepy Lagoon, and that a fight
had broken out. Whether it was wholly a spontaneous ruction following an attempt of some of the participants to crash a party
in a near-by house or whether the crowd had gone to revenge itself upon another crowd is not certain. But there was a good
deal of drinking and fighting, and the next day the body of Diaz was discovered. It was not difficult for the police to round
up 22 young men who had been in the party. All denied any knowledge of Diaz' death, though they were subjected to the third
degree by Los Angeles police. To this day there has been no confession, no admission of the slightest complicity. The trial
was presided over by Judge Fricke, who is denounced for his part in the judicial lynching by Guy Endore. There were seven
defenaing lawyers, and the confusion in the courtroom is almost indescribable.
The judge ruled that the lawyers could not confer with their clients during court recesses. So the lawyers had to do their
conferring with their various clients in the prisoners' box, climbing over three or four clients of other lawyers to reach
their own particular clients. An effort to have a distinguished lawyer represent all the accused was thwarted when the judge
refused to allow him a week-end to post himself on the case. So, rather than botch proceedings by coming in cold and uninformed,
he refused to act. There was a tremendous mass of testimony introduced, which the judge permitted, while instructing the jurors
to disregard it in reaching a verdict. In the opinion of the defenders of these young men, it was wholly impossible for the
jurors to carry in their minds the evidence against each one in particular, and to distinguish between testimony they were
instructed to take into account and what they were told to disregard. A significant comment on the whole affair is that later
two other youths were arraigned separately on the same charges, with the same evidence, but with a more competent lawyer.
The prosecution announced that it had no case to proceed with. The other convictions have been appealed.