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Walking Out for Justice Since 1968

Fifty years ago, over 10,000 high school students walked out of their classrooms from five East Los Angeles high schools to protest racial inequalities in public education. At the time, the dropout rates at Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools in East LA were about 50 percent while Westside schools were below 4 percent. When the Los Angeles School Board ignored student leaders who presented a survey of student needs, students decided to target schools financially. They knew schools received funds based on the number of students in class each day and planned a massive walkout before attendance was taken. Students compiled a series of demands including an end to school segregation, corporal punishment for speaking Spanish, and classroom overcrowding. They also called for increased college opportunities beyond vocational training, community access to decision-making, and the hiring of more Mexican-American teachers and administrators. These demonstrations marked the beginning of the urban uprising known as the Chicano Movement and transformed the politics and culture of the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles and beyond.

Policing and Surveillance

Students faced intense brutality and surveillance by police in their demand for racial equality. Since the 1965 Watts Rebellion, Los Angeles police were trained to suppress the mass mobilization of students by arresting youth, community members, and journalists. Some youth were physically beaten without mercy. Local police also employed undercover surveillance tactics under the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). These undercover officers facilitated the arrest of the East LA 13 on conspiracy charges for disturbing the peace. At least seven of those arrested were leaders in The Brown Berets, an East LA-based social justice organization that defended marching students by shielding them from police. The violent police responses to peaceful protests for social justice in Boyle Heights politicized the community and advanced the fight against police brutality to the center of their social justice agenda.

The Brown

The Brown Berets are a pro-Chicano organization that emerged during the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s founded by David Sanchez and remains active to the present day. The group was seen as part of the Third Movement for Liberation. The Brown Berets' movements largely revolved around farm worker’s struggles, educational reform, and anti-war activism; they have also organized against police brutality.

Using their uniforms to express “Brown Pride,” the “Brown Berets” were young Chicano and Chicana activists who, like the Black Panthers, focused on issues such as unemployment, housing, food, and education. In order to call attention to the unequal educational system in East Los Angeles, the Brown Berets organized “blowouts,” where hundreds of Eastside Mexican American public schools students walked out of class the first week of March in protest of the inferior educational conditions in the school system.