Zoot Suit Riots | 2001
In the aftermath of a highly publicized trial for the murder of a young Mexican-American man, Los Angeles erupted in violent riots in June 1943 that scarred race relations for decades to come. For ten straight nights, American sailors armed with makeshift weapons cruised Mexican American neighborhoods in search of "zoot suiters"--hip, young Mexican teens dressed in baggy pants and long-tailed coats. The military men dragged kids--some as young as twelve years old--out of movie theaters and diners, bars and cafes, tearing the clothes off the young men's bodies and viciously beating them. Mexican youths aggressively struck back. When the violence ended, scores of Mexicans and servicemen were in hospital beds. At the heart of this story lies an unsolved murder. On August 1, 1942, a 22-year old Mexican American man was stabbed to death at a party. To white Los Angelenos, the murder was just more proof that Mexican American crime was spiraling out of control. The police fanned out across Los Angeles, netting 600 young Mexican American suspects. Almost all of those taken into custody were wearing the distinctive uniform of their generation: zoot suits. The tragic murder and the injustice of the trial that followed, coupled with sensational news coverage of both, fanned the flames of the racial hostility that was already running rife in the city. Within months, Los Angeles was in the grip of some of the worst violence in its history.