In the 1940's, Los Angeles had a large Chicano teen age
population, children of the immigrant wave of the 1920's.
Some belonged to Chicano gangs whose members wore a
distinctive style known as a zootsuits which consisted
of high-waisted baggy-legged trousers, a long draped
coat, a broad-rimmed flat hat, and a long elaborate key chain
completed the outfit. Their hair style consisted of a squared-off
haircut with a long duck-tail.
In April and May 1943, a few months after the convictions in
the Sleepy Lagoon trial, there were some minor clashes between
zootsuiters and military personnel in Los Angeles. Tension
soon lead to serious rioting in the first day of June 1943, when
clashes broke out between zootsuiters and groups of sailors and
soldiers stationed in the area. The servicemen roamed the streets of
Los Angeles seeking out and attacking those they thought were
zootsuiters. Cars and buses were stopped, and zootsuiters were pull
out. They enter theaters and zootsuiters were dragged out. The zootsuiters
were then assaulted and had their clothes ripped off and their hair cutoff.
These vicious attacks quickly extended to everyone who looked
Mexican. There was an undeclared war on Mexicans by packs of
serviceman. On June 7, fleets of taxis filled with sailors cruised
the streets of Los Angeles seeking more Mexicans to attack. This time
the L.A.P.D. and Sheriffs followed the taxis from a distance,
and instead of arresting the serviceman they arrested the zootsuiters
who were the victims of the military mobs. Time magazine later
called the riots in Los Angeles "the ugliest brand of mob action since
the coolie race riot of the 1870's."
What started out as street fights between zootsuiters and seviceman
had turned into a full scale race riot inflamed by the L.A. newspapers
and condoned by the major law agencies. The violence started to
spread from Los Angeles to Long Beach, Pasadena, and down to San Diego.
The violence in Southern California triggered similar race riots
against Chicanos in the midwest and eastern cities such as
Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia during the summer of 1943.
The official version of the Los Angeles rioting by city and county
officials was that the sailors and soldiers had acted in self defense,
and that no element of racial prejudice was involved. However,
a citizens committee found that these riots were caused principally
by racial prejudice which was stimulated by police practices and
by inflammatory newspaper reporting.