There are relatively small incidents in life that can lead to much bigger events. Sometimes those bigger events are anticipated, but no preventive actions are taken. On March 30, 1978, Dr. Hector Garcia wrote to three senior judges that he was afraid of Mexican-Americans losing “trust and faith in the federal judiciary” (Garcia 1). The reason for that was the murder of Jose “Joe” Campos Torres, and Dr. Garcia was asking the judges to “take action” and “correct such an impression” of justice (Garcia 1). If any action took place at all, it was not enough because the assassination of Joe Torres and the unfair court decision had led to the Moody Park riot.
Police brutality has been an actual problem for many years, even before the XXI century. In 1977, a policeman Terry W. Denson was charged for the murder of Joe Campos Torres, who had been missing three days prior to discovering the body. Torres grew up in poverty, was a Vietnam War veteran, had a drinking problem, and dreamt of operating a karate school. Later his family said that when Torres was drunk, he would start practicing karate which often led to fighting. When he was drinking at a bar one night, Torres and the bar manager engaged in a fight that was stopped by police officers. As the night progressed, Torres was beaten up by six officers, killed, and his body was drowned in Buffalo Bayou. Later, his family said Torres tried to cut down drinking to pursue his dream and that one night was a “temporary lapse back to old habits” (Rodriguez 12). If at least one of the six police officers had stopped the others, Torres would have lived, and the Moddy Park riot probably would never have happened. (Rodriguez 12).
When someone commits a crime, especially a murder, a proper punishment is expected to restore justice, at least partially. After the murder of Joe Torres, the six police officers were hiding it for all three days that he was assumed to be missing. Later, it was discovered that in the place where Torres was beaten up, the police used to drink, take drugs, and “abuse suspects in custody” (Berger 201). However, the judge gave them five years of probation and a fine of one dollar without any harsher sentence. In his letters, Dr. Hector Garcia pointed out that Sterling, the judge on the case, believed that a Mexican-American life does not worth much, which had caused such light sentencing. Garcia wrote that with this sentence, Sterling practically approved police brutality and killings of Mexican-Americans. Mexican-Americans have asked to restore justice and were prepared to wait but eventually were forced to act, leading up to the Moody Park riot. (Berger 204), (Block 21), (Garcia 1).
Before the Moody Park riot, there were a few peaceful protests. Most of them were mainly organized by Joe Torres’s mother, Margaret. After the final sentence, Margaret started planning numerous protests like she had been doing since her son’s death. One of the protests occurred at Moody Park on May 7, 1978, a year after Torres’s murder. Although the protest was peaceful, when police tried to arrest one of the protesters, it infuriated the people. Shouting “Justice for Joe Torres,” the protesters turned over a police car and started throwing bottles and rocks, breaking windows, and setting stores on fire. Both protesters and police officers got injured, but the riot was over in a few hours. Although it is unknown who instigated the riot, three randomly chosen people were charged for it. The arrest created the “Free the Moody Park 3” defense fund causing protests around the country to free them. Because of the violence of six police officers, some of their colleagues got injured, businesses nearby the park were destroyed, and Mexican-American people were left feeling unfair and afraid for their lives. (Berger 203-204).
All of the protests of 1977 and 1978 and the Moody Park riot especially were aimed not just at restoring justice for Joe Torres but also at stopping police brutality against all Mexican-American people. The case of Joe Torres showed people that police could abuse and kill them without firm punishment. However, the Moody Park riot had caused some changes in the system. For example, the Houston Police Department, which was infamous for its treatment of social minorities, organized a Spanish language program for the officers and set up police store fonts in minority neighborhoods. The Houston Police Department was the first in the country to start a recruiting team consisted of black and brown officers, which hired over a hundred Hispanic officers in ten years. The aftermath of the Moody Park Riot did not make Mexican-American feel safer, but it raised awareness towards police brutality and laid the foundations for changes. (Block 20, 22).
To conclude, there were multiple events leading up to the Moody Park riot, but no action was taken by the authorities. Above all, the police officers must have taken Joe Torres to the police station instead of starting to beat him up. Moreover, the authorities should have made sure that there was no police brutality towards those in custody. The court should have given the offenders a proper sentence and made them apologize to Torres’s family. The authorities should have listened to the protesters and people such as the victim’s mother or Dr. Garcia, who had informed them that Mexican-American people were getting angry and losing trust in the system. To prevent violent events, the whole society has to raise awareness of common problems, and the authorities have to listen more to people and not neglect abuse of power.
Berger, Dan, editor. The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism. Rutgers University Press, 2010.
Block, Robinson. “Moody Park: From the Riots to the Future for the Northside Community.” Houston History Magazine, vol. 9, no. 3, 2012, pp. 20-24.
Garcia, Hector. Dr. Hector P. Garcia Papers, Collection 5, Box 21. Special Collections and Archives, Mary and Jeff Bell Library, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 1978.
Rodriguez, Lori. “Latins Will Make Proposals to Bond on Police Brutality.” Houston Chronicle, 1977, pp. 1-12.