Los Siete de la Raza
Los Siete de la Raza is the name given to seven latino men accused of killing a San Francisco Police Officer. Their arrest and trial dramatized latino rights activism and police brutality of the 1960s and were an organizing point for the community.
On May 1st, 1969 on Alvarado Street in San Francisco's Mission District, two plainclothes police officers began harassing and assaulting five latino youth. This was not an uncommon occurrence in that neighborhood, especially since the San Francisco Chronicle had recently published a number of stories depicting the Mission district as a place full of crime which needed to be cleaned up. The difference of this confrontation was that the youth began to push back against the police. A struggle broke out and one of the officer's guns was pulled and used to shoot the other officer. Who pulled and shot the gun is unknown. The youths ran away after the shot was fired.
Soon an army of police swarmed the scene of the shooting. Believing the youths to be hidden inside the house outside of which the confrontation happened, the police filled the house with tear gas and stormed through the building injuring the 14-year-old sister of one of the youths. When they couldn't find their suspects the search spread through the neighborhood, with police ransacking homes and pointing their guns at boys as young as 15. Eventually six of the seven suspects (two of which were not even at the scene of the altercation) were arrested in Santa Cruz county. One of the suspects was never apprehended. He fled the country and spent the rest of his life in Cuba.
Before any sort of case or facts were presented, the youth were already being called "Latin hippies" and "hoodlums" by the Chronicle and the Mayor. This fit into the same discourse the media and those in power were using against brown and black working class youth. The same youth which was at the time joining groups like the Brown Berets and organizing third world strikes on college campuses. Some of those arrested were well known for tutoring and recruiting local youth to go to college. They were also involved in political education and the student strike at the College of San Mateo.
A defense committee was formed, at first made up largely of College of San Mateo and San Francisco State students. Seeing the similarity of their struggles the Black Panther Party gave support to this defense committee. With help and influence from the Panthers the defense committee formed into La Raza Information Center which organized a breakfast program for children and a community newspaper. Along with working for the defense of the original seven arrestees, La Raza Defense was also setup to help other latino community members deal with the justice system and the police. After a strike by local hospital workers demanded community control of healthcare, the La Raza Information Center organized the Centro de Salud. Here doctors, dentists, pharmacists and technicians volunteered alongside of community members to bring basic healthcare to those who could not afford it. Much of the medication used in the Centro de Salud came from collecting free medical samples which pharmaceutical companies sent out to doctors. Out of the preventative medical practice and education of this clinic grew a food cooperative where 60 families joined to purchase healthy alternatives to put on their dinner tables.
After 14 months in jail, Los Siete de la Raza finally went to trial. The prosecution relied mostly the testimony of the surviving officer, Paul McGoran. The defense used witnesses and other evidence to show McGoran's history of drinking on the job, pulling guns on people, abusing his power, excessive use of force, and being on valium due to stress. His estranged wife testified that he would plant drugs on suspects. Things McGoran claimed under oath varied from those written up in police statements.
All of the defendants were acquitted.
The Chronicle and police decried the verdict. The media campaign against the youths did not subside. Though they were now free from jail, their actions were scrutinized by police surveillance and their employment opportunities were bleak. Some of the defendants were arrested for robbery or drugs. Others left the country. One became a university professor in Mexico. Eventually, Centro de Salud was taken over the by the city government and the free breakfast for children program was replaced by a similar federal government program. The legacy of latino empowerment created through the organizing of what began as the defense committee lives on to this day.