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Forty years later, controversy over journalist Ruben Salazar's death lives on

An old interior shot of the Silver Dollar, the bar where Ruben Salazar was fatally struck, taken from a UCLA collection
An old interior shot of the Silver Dollar, the bar where Ruben Salazar was fatally struck, taken from a UCLA collection
Photo courtesy of cindylu/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over the past several days, the Los Angles Times has featured an extensive compilation of records pertaining to the life and death of veteran journalist Ruben Salazar, an award-winning Times columnist and news director for KMEX-TV who was killed in 1970 during a violent protest in East Los Angeles.

Salazar died after being struck on the head by a tear gas projectile, fired by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy into the bar where Salazar was taking a break. An early draft of a report by the county Office of Independent Review, which is officially due out today, points to Salazar's death being an accident. Still, there are those who continue to have doubts.

The comments from readers under the recent stories in the LAT have been interesting. Some don't remember the killing, which at the time rocked L.A.'s Mexican American community and the burgeoning Chicano civil rights movement. Some have wondered why the violent death of a journalist 40 years ago at the hands of local authorities should still matter today. Others who remember the incident not only recall the details, but continue to wonder if Salazar was targeted. The journalist was an outspoken critic of how law enforcement dealt with Latino residents.

A piece published this weekend inviting reactions to the new report drew varied comments from readers.

Uncle_charlie wrote:

No one cares about this murder. I happened decades ago. Drop it LA Times.

Bob Wilson countered:
I care about this murder - it affected me and so many of my Chicano friends. I think too much time has passed to reconstruct what actually happened, but I suspect it was incompetence by the cops on scene, not malice. I would go with voluntary manslaughter.

Whophantom, who identified as a "retired law enforcement professional," wrote:
I was a young Mexican-American in 1970 and remember these events very well. I followed the event and the story for forty years. I cannot under my professional opinion believe & will ever believe that LASD and it's Deputies involved in the killing of Ruben Salazar was a "wrong place @ the wrong time" victim. Fatal mistakes in policy were made and no one was held accountable.

A story last week drew even more reaction, including this comment from reader Joaquin Murietta:
Salazar was a fixture on KMEX - a Spanish language station and he clearly identified with Mexicans - no matter what generation - as they identified with him.  Salazar was clearly targetted for being "mexican" - just wait until those FBI files are released.  To believe otherwise is just adding to the "WHITEwash" of this whole tragedy.

The LAT reported today that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca plans to allow limited public access to eight boxes of formerly confidential documents related to Salazar's death once the report is officially released. Even then, it seems unlikely there will ever be consensus on why Salazar was killed.

KPCC's Madeleine Brand Show and AirTalk with Larry Mantle are both featuring segments this morning on Salazar, his legacy, and why his death and the circumstances surrounding it remain controversial 40 years later.