The L.A. Reservoir Murder – 8/2/1942

US History |

During World War II, Los Angeles started to see some of their own prejudice happen in their city. It was all caused by the murder of Jose Diaz. On this day, police find Diaz’s body at the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir and immediately began searching for justice. They eventually got together 22 Mexican men and arrested them for conspiring to murder Diaz. 

However, the trial went wayward when they didn’t exactly have any real evidence to support the fact that they murdered Diaz. Despite lack of evidence, the 22 Mexican men were still convicted of the murder, saying that they beat Jose to death. It started a period of racial prejudice within LA with the Mexican community.

In addition, the media that surrounded the trial didn’t help any matters. Even though everyone was aware of the lack of evidence, they still made wild assumptions about all Mexican people and started to stereotype them as bad people, when they had no basis to do so. They were referred to as hoodlums, historically violent, having a “total disregard for human life” and having the desire to kill and shed blood on anyone who gets in their way. These were all wild assumptions that made them look way worse than they actually were, especially since it was never really proven that they killed Jose Diaz.

In the end, even with a very powerful defense committee in place for the 22 men, 17 of them were eventually sent to San Quentin prison for the murder of Jose Diaz. It sparked tyranny amongst the people in the LA area, and around the nation.

The following summer, hostility was at an all-time high between the Mexican people and the white people. Fueled by the press, police, city officials and Mexican people of LA, what became known as the “zoot suit riots” started to break out. There were about a dozen Mexicans all wearing zoot suits that attacked a group of sailors. In response, 50 Navy sailors took to the streets, where they would beat anyone that fit the Hispanic profile. In the coming days, hundreds of more sailors joined the tyranny in response. After four days, it was reported that Mexicans were ready to retaliate, which caused panic amongst the citizens of the area.

The following day, a law was passed that made wearing zoot suits a misdemeanor by default in an effort to end the violence in the civilian streets.

To finally end the violent string of attacks, U.S. military commanders demanded that personnel be restricted to their bases. This ended the turmoil, since the sailors couldn’t leash out any more retaliation. After two years in prison, the 12 that were convicted in the Diaz murder were released after the convictions were overturned. In a way, justice was served for one side. 

Racial prejudice has been a problem in this country for a very long time. Whether it’s with the blacks, Mexicans, whites, Indians, Chinese, etc. Everyone receives prejudice, the only thing we can do is to not make the small amount of people unleashing this prejudice gain too much power in the community. That’s when it all gets too out of hand. 

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Nancy Reyes

Senior Writer

One of our top senior writers, Nancy came to us wanting to break away from the politics that comes with major news corporations. She leads our team of historical writers in creating the best engaging content out there that keeps our readers coming back for more. She is an enthusiast of all things medieval and has been a member of her renaissance fair group for 15 years. She received her degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California and hopes to one day travel the world.