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November 4, 1943
"The Sleepy Lagoon case is a test balloon to see how far the people will satnd for Gestapo methods in this country."
These ringing words from State CIO President Phillip M. Connelly head off a broadened appeal to trade unions for funds to free 17 Mexican youths of Los Angeles, who are now in San Quentin prison convicted in the Sleepy Lagoon case.
The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, which is carrying on the fight, has just undergone a reorganization so as to make its appeal nationwide.
Joe Marty of the United Electrical and Radio Workers head a Trade Union Activities Committee, now being formed to seek sustaining pledges from local unions in this area.
The Sleepy Lagoon case, which is a new cause celebre testing Hitler's "biological basis" race guilt theories, and group responsibility for individual crime, can be successfully implanted in America, faces a crisis in its financing.
The law firm of Katz, Gallagher and Margolis seeking a reversal of the conviction of the 17 boys in the so called murder at Sleepy Lagoon already has spent in time and money out of their own pockets more than $5000. Many thousands more are needed for the 1000 page transcript of the testimony and other expenses incident to appeal.
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Nothing less than a nationwide appeal will meet the need, and this is the reason for the reorganization of the Defense Committee.
Carey McWilliams, noted labor attorney and author, is national chairman, and a number of figures of national reputation in and out of the labor movement are being sought to fill out the list of sponsors and officers. Several distinguished liberal clergymen and Professor F.O. Matthiesse of Harvard University are among the national sponsors. Bella M. Joseph, a young woman with extensive experience in administrative, personnel and public relations work, has been installed as executive secretary and new national offices have been opened at 1006 Broadway Arcade Building, 542 South Broadway, Los Angeles, 13.
During the reorganization period before reutrns[sic] begin coming in from the sustaining pledges campaign, the defense is being financed through contributions, benefits and a series of card and cocktail parties being planned in Hollywood and elsewhere.
Typical of the benefits are the Nov. 10 performance of the new "Meet the People" at the Los Angeles Assistance League Playhouse; and a book review forum sponsored by the League of American Writers at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Los Angeles, Nov. 12.
The campaign received a big boost from Connelly's speech at the recent CIO State convention in Freson and the convention's resultant resolution approving thec cause and commending it to the CIO unions of the state.
This is the leading fight today, as the Scottsboro case the Mooney case, and many others were in their day. Connelly said in taking the convention floor to speak for the resolution. "This is the leading case in race in this part of the country."
The Sleepy Lagoon cases constitutes the ugly prologue to the socalled "zoot suit riots" in Los Angeles last June. And an odd feature of it is that no one can be sure that the murder from which the case arises really was a murder at all. Strong evidence indicates that the victim, Jose Diaz, fell into a roadway and was run over by a car after
― 3 ―or during a drinking party at a ranch near Los Angeles, August 2nd, 1942.
But at that time the reactionary press of Los Angeles was beginning to drum up its pachuco scare, and Diaz's death was bannered as a murder committed by a zoot suit gang.
Under the spur of these newspaper headlines, the police launched a series of terroristic raids in the Mexican community. Cops line up outside dance halls and ripped the peg tops and zoot suits of youngsters as they came out. Mexican boys were beaten and jailed, and the 22 hapless defendants who subsequently stood trial were fished up in the dragnet.
Seventeen of these boys were convicted, 12 for conspiracy to murder, and five for assault. On exactly the same evidence two others who got a separate trial were accuitted. Three of the convicted boys were sent up for life; nine for five years to life; and five to six months to a year.
The most shocking appeals were made to race prejudice and suspicion by Deputy District Attorney Shoemaker during the trial.
At one point Defense Attorney George Shibley tried to bring out how the boys were forbidden to get hair-cuts during the trial or to receive clean clothing from home, and charged that Shoemaker was "purposely trying to have these boys look like mobsters, like disreputable persons, and is trying to exploit the fact that they are foreign in appearance."
Shoemaker replied that "the appearance of the defendants is distinctive." He said the prosecution regarded as important evidence "their style of haircut, the thick heavy heads of hair, the ductail comb, the pachuco pants and things of that kind."
No eye witness testimony was presented to show that the boys were connected in any way with Diaz's death. Instead of evidence an atmosphere of terror and prejudice was permitted to prevail in the courtroom. Witnesses were intimidated, the boys were beaten and bulldozed in typical third degree fashion by police, and were not permitted to consult with their attorneys in the courtroom.
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The atmosphere of the trial was set in an official report which Ed Duran Ayers of the Sheriff's Foreign Relations Bureau submitted to the grand jury that indicted the boys. Thsi[sic] report makes the astonishing claim that there is an inherent tendency toward murder and violence—a "biological basis" for crime among Mexican youth, and argues for collective punishment for such youth, the "incarceration of every member of a particular gang, whether there be 10 or 50."