On October 21, just a few days away, the first brief will be filed with the appellate court in the Sleepy Lagoon case - as a result of which 17 Mexican-American boys were convicted and are now serving sentences as high as life imprisonment.
It would be appropriate at this time to review the case, to consider again the kind of trial that was had. And when you have finished — ask yourself, Would you be satisfied with such a trial? Could you feel that justice had been done you under the same circumstances?
The trial itself was preceded by mass arrests of Mexican-American youngsters — mass arrests reminiscent of Nazi methods. It was enough to the police in those first few days of August 1942 that a boy or girl was of Mexican descent. Knowledge of or connection with the alleged murder of Jose Diaz was not a prerequisite to arrest.
Brutal third degree methods were used to take statements - some of them from 12- and 13-year-old girls. There were beatings and threats... until the police got the kind of statements they wanted.
The racist, anti-Mexican tone for the conduct of the Sleepy Lagoon trial was
― 2 ―set with the report of Edward Duran-Ayres to the Grand Jury after the indictment. This vicious, Hitler-like document states that the only basis to work from is the "biological basis", that Mexicans have a total disregard for the value of human life and compares Mexicans with bloodthirsty wildcats. That was the kind of "evidence" upon which the boys were tried and convicted.
The jury which was selected had not one person on it who was a Mexican or was of Mexican descent.
Presiding was Judge Charles W. Fricke. His anti-Mexican feeling was very clearly demonstrated in a case several years ago in which he convicted and sentenced five Mexican boys to 250 years in prison each on charges of rape. The first court to which an appeal was taken not only reversed Judge Fricke's decision, but made pointed comment on his obvious prejudice. Throughout the Sleepy Lagoon trial Judge Fricke made comment of a deprecatory nature which could have no bearing upon the guilt or innocence or the defendants, but which must have served to influence the jury to feel that the boys on trial were not even worthy of a dignified hearing in court. Not only did he make slurring remarks about the defendants, but his comments about the defense attorneys were also extremely caustic. Most important, however, from a legal point of view, is the fact that over one hundred times during the course of the trial Judge
― 3 ―ruled on legal technicalities in one way for the prosecution and in precisely the same legal point he would rule differently for the defense.
Though they were being tried on a most serious charge, the effect of which might affect the rest of their lives, the defendants were never allowed to sit with their own counsel during the trial. The excuse given that there was not enough room in the court. The prosecution, on the other hand, conferred constantly with its witnesses.
In order to make the boys appear as disreputable as possible, Deputy District Attorney Shoemaker gave orders to the Jailer that they were not to be given haircuts or allowed change of clothing. It was two months after their arrest, one month after the trial began, that this order was rescinded - and then only after a delegation headed by defense attorney Shibley called upon the Jailer.
In his plea to the jury, the District Attorney said that there was a "smidgen of truth" in the statement of a police officer that all Mexicans are cowards and Mexicans don't fight fair.
The entire proceedings in the Sleepy Lagoon case were a vile slander of the Mexican people. At any time this would be revolting to all democratic-minded people. Today, when Mexico and the United states are allied in a war
― 4 ―against that very sort of ideology, it is not only dangerous, it is treason!
From a legal aspect there is ample basis for a reversal of the convictions which were obtained in such an obnoxious manner. After careful study of the 6032-page record, Mr. Ben Margolis, the attorney who is handling the appeal, has stated that nowhere in the testimony is there evidence that any of the 17 is guilty of murder.
The Mexican people cannot disassociate themselves from the Sleepy Lagoon case, for with the conviction of 17 Mexican-American boys on a purely anti-Mexican basis the right of any Mexican or Mexican-American to a fair hearing in court is in jeopardy.
Manuel Reyes, serving a sentence of from 5 years to life imprisonment wrote from San Quentin: "..glad to know they are letting people know that there is prejudice against the Mexicans, and how the police treated us when we were arrested. We were treated like if we were German spies or Japs. They didn't figure we are Americans just like everybody else that is born in this country."
The support of the Mexican Colony for the appeal of the Sleepy Lagoon case will be a demonstration that they, along with other right-minded people of this nation, will not tolerate the racist nonsense of Duran-Ayres, will not tolerate that a minority should be subjected to such an indecent trial, that they speak out against discrimination. Support of the Sleepy Lagoon case will mean a demand that the blot upon the Mexican Community be removed!
For further information -
Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee
206 South Spring St. Room 342