The Ruben Salazar incident lives on 40 years later

Though I was only ten-years-old at the time, I still remember watching portions of the televised coroner’s inquest into the death of Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar.  I couldn’t have imagined that 41 years later I’d be talking about Salazar’s killing on my own radio program.

At the time, I first remember wondering what an inquest was and why a newspaper writer’s death was getting so much attention.  It didn’t take very long to understand how important Salazar was to the Chicano movement, and how heavy a hit his death was to the Eastside anti-war movement.

Since Salazar was killed by a tear gas projectile fired by an L. A. County Sheriff’s Deputy, his profile has only grown.  He’s had a postage stamp issued in his memory, and the circumstances of his killing continue to fuel questions of whether he was targeted for death by law enforcement. 

No one denies that he had plenty of enemies within both the LAPD and LASD.  Salazar was a big personality who had a flair for antagonizing the L. A. establishment, while defending the rights of Mexican-Americans.  However, the question of whether antipathy for him grew into assassination may be unanswerable.  

Tuesday morning the office of Independent Review for the Sheriff’s department released its investigation into Salazar’s death.  The panel concluded that poor departmental procedures led to the incident, in which the gas projectile hit Salazar in the head and killed him.  However, the panel didn’t conclude that there was an intention to kill Salazar.

Sheriff Lee Baca now says he’ll allow limited, but full, access to all the Salazar documents.  Journalists and historians will be lining up to take a look.  I wonder whether we’ll end up with several competing conclusions from the very same materials.

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