World War II fueled a population influx into Los Angeles, California, in 1943 that coincided with an increase in petty crime. White residents blamed Latino youth, who often wore distinctive, colorful garments known as “zoot suits.” Many members of the military stationed in Los Angeles were hostile to wearers of zoot suits because wartime rationing rules forbade the production of such clothing. On May 30, 1943, a scuffle between a group of soldiers and a group of zoot suit wearers sparked a series of conflicts that became known as the Zoot Suit Riots.
During the riots, white sailors and soldiers attacked Latino youth wearing zoot suits, beat them with belt buckles and ropes, and stripped them of their clothes. Law enforcement did not intervene in support of the Latino victims and instead charged them with vagrancy. Los Angeles newspapers encouraged the violence and portrayed Latino youth as deserving of brutal treatment. There are no reports that death or serious injury resulted from the violence.
Critical observers rejected the crime-control justifications for the attacks and linked “zoot suit” violence to historical prejudice against people of color in the United States. A July 1943 article in Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), asserted that “Zoot Riots are Race Riots.” Following the Zoot Suit Riots, similar incidents in which white members of the military and white employees of military contractors would target black and Latino youth with violence occurred in cities throughout the United States. By one estimate, 242 instances of racial violence occurred in forty-seven American cities in 1943 alone.
From the Equal Justice Initiative’s A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar.
“The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is proud to present A History of Racial Injustice – 2018 Calendar. America’s history of racial inequality continues to undermine fair treatment, equal justice, and opportunity for many Americans. The genocide of Native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror, and the legally supported abuse of racial minorities are not well understood. EJI believes that a deeper engagement with our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing present-day questions of social justice and equality.