' Skip To Content
Zoot Suit Riots | Article

The Press and the Riot


The Los Angeles press was hostile to zoot suiters, many of them Mexican American young people. The newspapers depicted them as hoodlums. With the nation at war, headlines about zoot suiters shared column space with articles on Allied advances in Europe, food shortages at home, and advertisements urging American victory. Read through these articles from 1942 and 1943 to see how the press covered the Sleepy Lagoon case and the Zoot Suit Riots.

Police 'Showup' Scheduled Tonight as Result of 300 Juvenile Arrests
Inquest Into Ranch Death to be Held This Morning

Los Angeles Examiner
August 11, 1942

Its climax made strongly evident by the jailing of nearly 300 youths and girls in week-end arrests, results of the city-county drive against juvenile gangsterism will take form today in an inquest, a big-scale "showup," and a "crackdown conference" of officers.

Twenty-nine boys, indicted last week by the grand jury in connection with the slaying on the Williams Ranch August 2 of Jose Diaz, 22, will appear at an inquest into the attack on Diaz, kicked and pummeled to death.

Ten girls, who are declared to have been companions of the young hoodlums, also are to be summoned as witnesses....

Captain P. M. Kunou of the Sheriff's office reported, "as far as the county is concerned, the juvenile gangsters have been driven to cover."

Hair Style Used in Identification of Hoodlums
Suspects Must Not Change Haircut, Judge Rules

Los Angeles Examiner
October 27, 1942

Male haircuts, particularly that "smeared-around-the-back" style known as the "duck tail comb," became the topic of debate in Superior Judge Charles W. Fricke's court yesterday in the murder trial of 22 boy gang suspects.

All of the 22 murder suspects, reputed members of the "38th Street Gang," affect the "duck tail comb" hair style. The prosecutors, Assistant District Attorney Clyde Shoemaker and Deputy John Barnes, charged that such hair cuts are distinguishing gang characteristics.

Yesterday's word storm broke when one of the eight defense lawyers demanded that Shoemaker be held in contempt of court for advising the county jailer not to let the boys have their hair style changed during the course of their trial.

Shoemaker replied that the effect of changing the hair style would be to make it difficult for prosecution witnesses to identify them in connection with their alleged participation in a riot last August 2, when they are declared to have kicked and beaten to death a Montebello ranch guest, Jose Diaz, 22.

Judge Fricke ruled that he didn't think that the boys should have their hair style changed.

Latin America Group Probes Street Fights
Fact-Finding Committee to Delve Into Causes of Brawls Between Servicemen, Gangs

Los Angeles Examiner
June 8, 1943

Alarmed at the recent outbreak of street fights between so-called zoot suit gangs and men of the armed forces, the Citizens' Committee for Latin American Youth yesterday launched an extensive investigation of the situation and will report its findings to the press and public.

...The committee appointed several months ago by the supervisors to investigate relations among Latin Americans in Los Angeles County was told by various spokesmen for the Mexican community that only a small percentage of zoot suiters are trouble makers and that it is regrettable they should bring the entire Mexican population into ill repute...

Near-martial law in L.A. riot zones

Los Angeles Daily News
June 9, 1943

...Harold Tabor, 32, Long Beach sailor, was severely beaten by a gang of zooters at 103rd and Graham st. He suffered a broken nose, serious facial cuts. He told officers at Georgia st. hospital that he had been visiting his sister, Dorothy Edmonson, 1133 East 103rd st.

"I was passing a poolhall en route to a grocery store when the gang hopped me, " he said.

George Lorigo, 19, was arrested on a charge of battery after Tabor's beating. The sailor was later transferred to Long Beach naval hospital for X-ray examination.

Two soldiers and a Negro zoot suiter were taken into custody after a riot at the corner of Second and Spring sts. And police, cruising throughout the city in scouting forays, dispersed mobs, hunted for others. Police ordered groups of more than three to " break it up" everywhere in the downtown area, and the presence of armed officers on every street resembled martial law rule. Two officers were stationed on every corner of Main, Spring and Broadway, between First st. and Pico blvd. Two more officers were in the center of each block.

Squads of riot breakers, packed 18 in a truck, roamed the city, investigated mob reports, arrested suspects. Traffic on Main st. was bumper to bumper, moving as slowly as city officials trying to solve the zoot suit problem.

Navy shore patrol officers and Bagley army military police added to the martial law resemblance. They walked in and out of bars, dancehalls, drugstores, bus stations. They kept servicemen on the move, asked for proof of leaves and liberties.

One of the most serious outbreaks of terrorism occurred in Watts. There three PE trains were stoned. At least three passengers were injured by shattered glass windows. About 9 p.m. an inbound train from Newport was "shelled" by pachucos. One person was cut seriously. A few minutes later, nearly every window of an outbound Long Beach two-car train was smashed when it was caught in a crossfire of pachuco stoning. Two were seriously cut on this car, including a navy nurse. An inbound San Pedro car barely escaped the stoning.

Gangsterism in Watts continued into the early hours of today. Twelve Negroes ambushed a 17-year-old white high school student, asked him if he was a "zoot suiter" and when he said "no" the fight started. The victim, Joe M. Steddum of 8834 Banders st., Watts, received a five inch cut on his left forehead, requiring six stitches at the emergency hospital, 3060 Slauson st., to mend.

Police took Daniel Malone into custody at Sixth and Main sts. when they discovered a long club hidden down his pants leg.

Servicemen continued to roam the city's streets through all this hectic night despite the "out of bounds" order issued at 3:15 yesterday afternoon.

It came from Rear Adm. D. W, Bagley, a commandant of the 11th Naval district in San Diego, and addressed to all activities, it read:

"Until further notice, except for special occasions approved by the commanding officer, the city of Los Angeles will be out of bounds for all enlisted personnel of the naval services not attached to the stations within this city, or in travel status.

"Activities located in the city of Los Angeles will, except in special cases, grant liberty to married men or those subsisted off stations."

Augmented police forces continued their roundup of riot suspects, meanwhile. Arrests of zoot suiters were reported in all sections of the county. Among those taken into custody were Lewis English,23, of 844 East Fifth st., and Adam Vasquez, 16, address is unknown. English was charged with carrying a concealed weapon when officers found a 16 inch butcher knife in his pants. Vasquez was turned over to juvenile authorities as a riot suspect.

But zoot suit panty gangs of hoodlums continued to lose their trousers to servicemen, and in many cases nearly lost what was in 'em.

Servicemen, too, particularly sailors, reported casualties. One sailor, Donald Jackson, 20, of Santa Barbara, had just arrived here on leave when a group of reat pleaters jumped him at First and Evergreen sts. His head was beaten. His abdomen was severely cut. His back was viciously kicked.

Nazis Spur Zoot Riots

Los Angeles Daily News
June 9, 1943

...Sailors state that in fighting zoot suiters and other gangsters in Los Angeles they have only been avenging injuries inflicted on themselves and their wives in this area. A number of servicemen have been badly beaten by zoot suiters, and cases of attacks on wives of navy men have been reported.

...[A] telegram from the sailors said:

"We make this plea in hopes that all fighting Americans are not in service, that there are some left to protect the families of ours. Our intent in taking justice in our own hands was not an attempt to instill mob rule but the only desire to insure our wives and families safe passage in the streets.

"As none of the creators of the outrages on your wives and ours have been brought to justice or the streets made clean we felt that something had to be done.

"Our past activities, we realize, were not within the law, but we are sure they met the honest approval of the people.

"The so-called zoot suiters may now have free reign throughout our city of Los Angeles to do what they may with the wives of servicemen and civilians as they make their way home from swing and graveyard shifts in war plants.

"The Los Angeles city limits are out of bounds to we servicemen. We are not permitted to enter the city.

"Has Los Angeles fallen to the zoot suiters?

"We are anxious to know. How about telling the folks at home for us?"

U.S. Acts in Zoot Suit Riots; Governor Orders Inquiry
Police Must Clean Up L.A. Hoodlumism

Los Angeles Examiner
June 10, 1943

Riotous disturbances of the past week in Los Angeles by zoot suit hoodlums have inflicted a deep and humiliating wound on the reputation of the city.

Los Angeles has been disgraced, and it is up to Los Angeles to move with the utmost speed and firmness to retrieve its character as a peaceful and orderly community.

Whatever their origin or motivation, these criminal outbreaks are essentially a police problem.

They might have been, but were not prevented, by police action.

They can, however, be squelched by police action, and so they must be.

This is no time to engage in controversy or recrimination.

The urgent need of the moment is to concentrate all our powers of peace enforcement to disperse and crush the slightest attempts of mobs to exist or collect within the city....

The record already reveals killings, stabbings, and cases of innocent women having been molested by zoot suit gangsters....

Los Angeles, like all American cities, has a tremendous lot of hard work to do fighting and winning a real war.

There is no use anywhere, no justification possible, for wasted energy or belligerence wrongly directed.


Support Provided by: Learn More