Dolores Huerta had always been feisty. Alongside Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the movement that became the United Farm Workers union which fought for migrant agricultural workers in California through the 60s and 70s. The UFW was an incubator for Latino organizing in the Golden State, inspiring action far beyond the fields.
Huerta was no stranger to violence. Not only had workers been shot in the course of the UFW's strikes, but she was part of Robert F. Kennedy's party when he was murdered in 1968 in a Los Angeles hotel just hours after winning the California Democratic presidential primary.
In 1988 Huerta was a respected and significant figure in labor, Democratic, and activist politics when she joined a peaceful demonstration in Union Square outside a George H.W. Bush fundraiser. The crowd was noisy, but contained. But San Francisco police chose to charge, using their thrusting batons to fracture Huerta's ribs and rupturing her spleen.
Janice Leber was reporting for radio station KPFA that night and recounted her experiences.
As it happens, I was about 10 feet behind Huerta that night and can confirm that the police charge was both unwarranted and seemed intended to injure. Most got away, but some became targets.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Mayor Art Agnos watched the police tapes of the event with Police Chief Frank Jordan:
So what came of this? Huerta lost her spleen and recovered. The city paid her a judgment of $825,000. Agnos was a one term mayor; he was succeeded in office by the Police Chief, Frank Jordan. I have not been able to find a record of what happened to the officers who gave Huerta a beating. In reporting the settlement, the LA Times reported:
I have to wonder if the officers who beat Huerta retired with their pensions as so many rogue cops have, before and since.
Posts titled "For the record" will appear here occasionally as long as San Franciscans continue to have to struggle to rein in a police department which has killed five civilians in the last two years in circumstances in which officers' justifications for their use of force strain credulity. Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams are dead. No officer has been charged or (as far as we know) disciplined. In fact, since 2000, the SFPD has killed 42 civilians; no officers have been charged. A culture of impunity in the SFPD is not new; in the over 40 years I've lived in this city, new cases involving officers mistreating residents have recurred over and over.