True democracy was a myth at America's founding, and today we still have a lot of work to do. I'm Julia Longoria and in a new weekly show from The Atlantic and WNYC Studios, we explore the powerful ideas that shaped the United States and what happens when those ideas collide with people's real lives. Listen to the experiment on Apple podcasts. Yes, the podcast, Politically Reactive is back, politically reactive is an essential guide to what is happening in the wave after wave of unprecedented events in the dumpster fire that is American politics.
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The cut, the cut, cut, cut, cut, the cut. The cut. Yes, the inauguration of the vice president was this amazing historic moment, the vice president elect of the United States, Kamala Harris, and I was absolutely moved by it.
The first woman vice president, the first VP of color being sworn in by the first Latina Supreme Court justice.
The woman barrier, the color barrier for vice president is broken forever more.
And then it just turned a little too prematurely self-congratulatory. All these talks of like the barriers are broken. It's like it's true. Yes, firsts matter tremendously. But it's everything that comes afterwards that really signals change.
It's just so soon to pat ourselves on the back because firsts are rocky and difficult.
Ask someone who has been a first.
I was the first Latina to create star in their own network sitcom in TV history and American TV history.
Obviously Latinas and but the Latin American countries have done it. And also, I was the first Latina to star in a Pixar movie, Cars three. I was Cruz Ramirez before Coco, right before Coco, let me tell you.
As comedian, writer and activist Cristela Alonzo will tell you, sometimes you don't want to be the first. The temptation to break a barrier can pull you away from the work you actually want to do. The huge question that I had for you is like, how do you go to these places that have never been gone before? And still be choosy, because I heard that you turned down the view, I did. I did.
The View has an audience of 2.5 million people every single day.
When Costilla was offered the job as a host, that would have made her the first representative of the Chicano experience regularly seated at that table. But part of her fight is choosing her battles. One of the biggest things I had was that I grew up in poverty, so growing up in poverty actually gave me the ability to say no because I know what it's like to come from nothing. So at the end of the day, if I end up with nothing, that is my familiar spot.
That is my comfort zone. And also, I've always said I just love I love what I do.
I have so many people in my past, you know, they do say I want to be rich and famous.
And I always start thinking that's going to be your downfall right off the bat, because how much fame is enough? How much money is enough if you can't put. If you can't put, like, an amount of it, like a goal or something, you'll never be happy, it'll never be enough. When the view came up. And I loved WAPI, I loved Raven, Nicolle Wallace was back on in that time, we had a great it's a great time but I didn't like.
The energy of it for me. When I got offered the job, I knew immediately I was going to be miserable. Yeah, I felt like the fighting was going to get worse. I felt like just is it all worth it, like is it worth my mental state? To have this much money, you know, and I said no, I said no, and my agents, they were like, Oh, I get it, you're negotiating. Here's more money, and I was like, oh, yeah, no, I don't want the money, like I though I so don't want the money and they're like, OK, but for me.
I'm choosy because I also love this thing that I do so much that I want to be happy doing the thing that I do. That's the weird thing.
Cristela has been an activist for years, but after the 2016 election, she took a step back from showbusiness entirely. A break from being a first applause from blazing paths. To maintain the paths that already existed, people were asking me, like, why haven't you created another show? Why haven't you done this? Why haven't you done that?
And I said, honestly, I don't feel like being funny right now. I think that, you know, the Lord is where that is my mentor and one of my best friends.
No way. Dolores Huerta, the iconic activist who with Cesar Chavez, helped organize the farmworkers movement. She actually coined the phrase exequatur.
I love her like cool. Yes. You know, and we're both members of a nonprofit where she and I, during election cycles, will do bus tours together to get people to go out. And, you know, we try to focus on Spanish speaking communities, farm worker communities to get people to go out and vote.
And we always talk about how when you're in the movement, when you're in a movement and you're trying to see progress, it's so hard to see the actual progress because we always want to see the end result. So as we try to go towards the end result, we don't take time to celebrate the little wins here and there. The and I have always talked about that the celebrating the wins along the way, the wins along the way, get you through the losses.
Do you actually celebrate, like do you and Dolores Huerta like take a shot? Like what do you do. Yeah, actually you know what actually yes, actually.
So Dolores loves a good like tequila and she likes to dance. She likes to listen, listen to live music, everything. We've had those moments.
And even after like during elections, you know, once the election is done, we drank the tequila. We went out of the bar once we were kicked out of it because it was closing at like 4:00 in the morning or something were outside.
And all of a sudden we start saying, OK, so what we need to work on. Is creating.
A plan to get Texas to be able to register voters easily online and data and we start talking about how to get people to register to vote.
Yeah, that's how we work, you know. So again. I had said no to The View because it wasn't me, but spending the middle of the night in New York City with the lawyers talking about how to get people to register to vote online in other states like Texas, that.
Feels right to me. I just want to do what I can to see that. My people are safe and by my people, I mean like my friends and my family and just anybody I could try to help and amplify and I did it and now I feel like I'm ready to go back to work.
In my first project was the Chicano What?
She's the host of a new documentary podcast called Chicanas Squad. And in many ways, it's about being a first and the challenges and complexities in that position. So, Chicanas, what is the story of the first Latino homicide squad in the United States and what starts the story to be so fascinating is how they were created and you realize that there was a problem in policing. Go figure. You know, in the 70s where in the Houston population, there was a big growing number of undocumented immigrants coming from mostly Mexico at that time where they couldn't really get any crime solved.
If anything happened to them, everything would just kind of go on like it didn't happen because the police department didn't have Spanish speakers.
Sometimes if you didn't speak Spanish, they couldn't even write your name correctly.
So if you look back, there's not a lot of files that exist about Latino, you know, crimes being committed on the Latino community.
But the tension between police and the community they were supposed to be protecting came to a head in 1977.
So what happened is they ended up the HPD, the Houston Police Department ended up. Murdering an Army veteran, a 23 year old Latino army veteran. The brutal murder of Jose Campos Torres set Houston aflame, protesters filled the streets, chanting his name towards his life was immortalized in chants, in artworks and songs.
Maria Posterous, Laport, you see Michael. Oh, yes, love up, he's gonna open up this tension that had existed between the Latino community and the police department where no one could really communicate, no one trusted the other person. No one trusted anybody. So the Houston Police Department, they decided to try this experiment where they said, hey, what if. I mean, this is crazy, but what if we get police officers that speak Spanish?
To talk to people in the community that speak Spanish and see what happens and everybody's like, whoa, this is just this sounds crazy enough to work, you know, and that's what happened.
And that's how the Chicanos what happened in this. I guess they see the between and the series follows each officer who joins up with the Chicano squad as they struggle to pass biased entrance exams, meet the arbitrary height requirement.
Basically, they have to transcend all these barriers that were efficiently and silently erected to keep them out.
And still, a number of these officers had grown up on the other side of the law, harassed for their papers, watching as their friends and siblings were chased by cops.
They had to really ask themselves if they wanted to become firsts in a space like the Houston Police Department, basically playing a part in the system that marginalized and terrorized their community.
For me, American Latino history means that we have to tell people that we have been here and contributed to this country since the beginning, even before the country was the United States. If we're only telling that story from one point of view, which was that undocumented immigrants or Spanish speaking people, they just had crime that was so hard to solve, they couldn't do it. But when we actually get to see that the people that there were actually like Spanish speaking cops, Latinos that grew up in those Spanish speaking neighborhoods, when we see that they were there, that their police officers and can do the police work, that all the other ones that couldn't speak Spanish thought was impossible, then we realize those stories need to be told because it's great to tell these stories about Latinos and doing amazing things and everything.
But we also have to remind people, by the way, they were cops.
And this is also to say when the Chicano squad formed, it didn't mean they were suddenly welcomed with open arms and given all the resources and embraced by the community in the system alike, I mean, they were basically given an impossible job, go solve this huge number of murder cases and make peace with the community.
The Chicano squad, when they started, had nothing. They got no budget for anything. I just finished recording an episode, the seventh episode that I tell you, I'm going to be honest.
When I was recording this episode, I was so angry at narrating this podcast like this episode because I was upset at the lack of resources they got and they still got the job done. After the break here, the origins of the Chicano squad and the story of the murder of José Campos Torres, which started at all.
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It was a spring afternoon in Houston in 1978. The date was May seven. It was a Sunday after Cinco de Mayo. Thousands of people gathered at a sprawling green space north of downtown called Moody Park to celebrate the Mexican holiday. Now, as it lets that's a Mexican-American Texan. I can't help but think of my own typical Sundays with my family filled with Bandoola, say, and barbacoa runs so we could celebrate the weekend with the Mexican staple's. In 1978, the neighborhood near Moody Park was largely Latino, mostly of Mexican descent still is today.
And so Cinco de Mayo was a holiday to celebrate exuberantly.
I don't consider it a holiday myself, but the U.S. sure seems to think it is that day. Like the Handl bands played and the parks. Thirty five acres were full of family picnics.
But as festive as the event was, a certain charge, an ominous energy lurked beneath the surface.
In 1978, there was another very all-American aspect to the scene in Woody Park, gateless Colleville, a local activist, remembers that particular one was very different because for about a year, the community had been really upset and just angry at the Houston Police Department for what they perceive that had happened to Joe.
Couple stories exactly one year earlier on Cinco de Mayo in 1977, a young Latino veteran named Jose Composters had died while in custody of the Houston Police Department. And anger over the case had not subsided.
Only grown. It was a year full of marches, protests outside city hall and increasingly heated exchanges between HPD and the community.
We were demanding two things justice for the couple's daughters and jail, the murdering cops for life. Those are our simple demands.
This is Travis Morales. Travis is an activist who grew up in Houston and was at Moody Park that day.
Some people told us before Muthee Park that if the cops got off, that there was going to be a riot. Quite frankly, I didn't believe it at the time.
And the cops did get off. Just five weeks before that sunny Cinco de Mayo in Moody Park, a decision came down and Joseph Composters, this case, the cops got a slap on the wrist for a community that had been waiting.
They felt justice had not been served. Despite the underlying tension, the park had remained peaceful, jovial, festive throughout the day, that changed at about seven 30 that night, a small fight over a girl broke out between two intoxicated men.
Park police officers tried to stop the fight and suddenly it was like someone had thrown a lit match on gas. Adrian Garcia was a teenager attending the celebration that day. As those officers in the park used force to try and break up the fight, the crowd reacted. That's when the rocks and the bottles started to fly. Then that's when you got into a true riot mode.
Two reporters from Channel two, Jack Kaido and Phil Archer, were taking pictures of the burning car when they were attacked. Flak jackets and shields were handed out and the officers formed a line to move to the scene.
These chaotic clips taken by a news crew at ABC 13 on the ground that night in Moody Park sound like they could have been ripped from any of the protests that have erupted across America today.
Some motorists found themselves greeted with drawn pistols. Martinez and I had that experience ourselves.
The police officer was just run down by police right now are calling for an ambulance as this officer lies seriously wounded here in the street, accompanied by with the death of José, composters at the hands of the Houston Police Department would be the spark that set off a powder keg that had been brewing between Houston's Mexican-American community and its police department for a long time.
It would push the city of Houston to the brink and it would destroy the last shred of trust the Houston Latino community had in the police department meant to protect them. From frequenting machine in the Vox Media Podcast Network, this is Chicano Squad, a piece of history I can almost guarantee you've never heard before.
I'm Crystal Alonso. I'm a comedian, actress and activist. And I'm also first generation Mexican-American, born and raised in Texas as a Latina. I have broken the glass ceiling and made TV film history twice. History is important to me, especially telling stories about my Latino community, even stories that are difficult. This year, protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement reveal to much of this country something they never knew about a problem that has existed for decades.
I have to admit, I've seen some people within my own Latino community react as if these protests are not about them or rather us.
So it's time to go back.
This guy's. Our story begins exactly one year before the Moody Park riot would shake Houston. It was early on the morning of May 8th, 1977, when one of Jesse Freeman's pontoon tour boats was navigating through the already steamy, slow moving water of Houston's Buffalo Bayou. OK, you have to know Houston's bayous are its lifeline between the concrete, the skyscrapers, the medical centers, the shopping malls, the posh neighborhoods and the barrios abuse go on for twenty five hundred miles.
They weave underneath tangled highway interchanges and sky tickling overpasses, past skyscrapers right through the heart of downtown and into Galveston Bay. Over the years, many of these waterways had become badly polluted, it wasn't uncommon for Houstonians to dump broken appliances and other garbage into them. I'm not kidding.
We even heard a story about how they used to hold a race in Buffalo Bayou every year called the Rekeying Regatta. How about that for a picture? And by the late 70s, parts of them were thick with brown, foul smelling water. Plenty of people love to make fun of the bayous over J.C. Freeman. It was all love, the hair and birds and the special sea birds and, you know, porpoise came up to Memorial Park. That's how clean it used to be.
And everybody used to go skinny dipping in the bayou. Come on now.
Jesse had spent years building up a successful tour boat company that ferried families and students through the peaceful bayou that splices through the heart of Houston. But on this particular morning, May 8th, 1977, Freeman was about to become a part of history.
Overnight, he kept his boat safe by paying some of the guys who slept on the landing on the bayou to watch over his fleet two days earlier, when he'd arrived at the landing in the morning, some of the guys told him they heard something suspicious overnight.
They were crashed out and they heard something going on on the other side of the bayou. And you could hear the echo underneath the Fannin Street Bridge.
The men said they'd heard a commotion on the other side of the bayou and they kind of saw these cops over there take the handcuffs off of the guy and threw him in the bayou. The men described what they thought was a man falling with an unforgettable splash into the murky water of Buffalo Bayou. The story sounded crazy. Then on that balmy May morning, he looked up and saw one of his boat operators speeding back towards the landing with a look of panic.
It's in a body floating in the water. And pick me up and we went down there. The men pulled the body onto the deck of the pontoon boat. It was obvious that the man's body had been in the water for a few days.
It was disfigured and the body was degrading.
Very quickly, Jesse Freeman began trying to figure out who the man was.
All these years later, his memory is hazy, but he recalls finding dog tags. He called the police to report the body and read the name to the dispatcher. Say, Doris, I said, hey, uh, do you have a line on this person with a dispatcher said next stop him in his tracks? And I said, yeah, he's in police custody right now. I said, no, he's not.
He's down here on the bio, especially out of the bio. Something had obviously happened between the time, say, had been in police custody and the time his body was fished from the water, something that would change life dramatically for the city of Houston for years to come.
Joseph Composters, his family had started to get nervous. His sister, Janie, was only 10 at the time, but still remembers it all clear as day. I know Cinco de Mayo.
He was out that day, went to a neighborhood cantina a couple of blocks away from the house.
Now, everyone knew that Joseph Campbell stories like to visit the neighborhood bars, the cantinas. He was especially fond of one in the heart of Houston's Eastend neighborhood called Club 21, where he often fought with the bartender and anyone else who wanted to argue. But everyone also knew that no matter what, he always showed up to work. At the time, he lived with his grandmother the day after Cinco de Mayo. She grew worried when she realized he hadn't come home and even more worried when she heard from a co-worker that Jose hadn't been at work.
As word got out that he was missing, was his family gathered at his grandmother's house a few blocks from Club 21?
So my aunts and. My dad and everybody was looking for him, calling around, trying to find out where he could be at or over the last with. The daughter's family was well known in the Houston Bassendean, the neighborhood they called home.
OK, a quick sidebar here in the series, you might hear some people use the word barrio's. For me, Barrio's has a negative connotation similar to the word ghetto.
So I prefer to call them simply Sindarius. In the daughter's home, there were three boys and three girls. Hozier was the oldest. All the kids were born and raised in Houston. There were also aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and babies. The Taurus family was large.
For a kid like Jamie waiting for news about her favorite brother was agonizing. We knew that he wasn't in hospital. We knew that he wasn't in jail. One day pass and then one Friday passed Friday payday.
They didn't show up, Cosmas in payday was a big deal, says his mother grew quiet. Now, as a mother herself, Janey understands her mother's quiet all too well now. Today, I kind of see that my mom was more quiet. I saw her more, of course, down, you know, things like that. That's probably, you know, a mother's. Instinct, you know, feeling. When your child is no longer with you, you know, she just had no confirmation yet.
It's like. Every mother knows their kid. Tauruses hooked me and was crying, saying nobody has told Jose's story the way that you told. She says he's either a superhero or he's a villain, but you made him real.
That's Dwight Watson, an associate professor of history at Texas State University in San Marcos. Dwight research the Houston Police Department, including the Hozier composters case for his book called Race and the Houston Police Department. A change did come and he's gone through every moment of the night HOSEK composters went missing. As we've mentioned, Hazelle was a veteran and as Dwight told us what they had returned from the Army with more than just a rucksack.
He was part of an elite mountain unit, according to the record in the Vietnam War. Bornholm veterans a on people who were damaged by the war. One person was like, that was all the couple's daughters.
Hozier came home with a serious drinking problem. He became a professional drinker and he drank from sunup to sundown.
When he was sober, Hosa was serious and disciplined, a man with plans. But he had been struggling for eight months, unable to find a job in solid footing back home in Houston. Finally, in April of 1977, things began to look up. Jose got a job making two dollars seventy five cents an hour as a glass contractor. It was a relief and the jingle in his pocket wasn't bad either. And on Cinco de Mayo, Jay-Z took some of that jingle out to celebrate.
Like so many others in Houston, Jose's favorite place to blow off steam was Club Twenty one. It was a bar on the bottom of a two story white brick building on Canal Street, a hole in the wall kind of place where the beer was cheap.
He and the bar owner had a contentious relationship, and on that night he and the bartender got into a fight.
It was a hell of a fight because they called the police.
The bartender had had enough of Jose, who was at the end of a 12 hour drinking bender. He had asked him to leave, but Jose refused. So the bartender called HPD and the police knew Jose.
They said that they had had a run in with him before. Jose's says previous drunken fights had landed him in handcuffs and behind bars in the Harris County jail a time or two before, so when the policeman showed up to pull him out of the bar, he didn't go quietly.
He was beyond belligerent. He was screaming and cursing. And there was a lot of cussing back and forth at him.
But part of the officers, Wassa, yelled at the officers calling them pigs. The officers decided as one of them would later tell a source to teach us a lesson. They took Horsehead to a quiet spot, they called the hall, there were a few places like it around town, secluded spots where uniform officers might park their cars, crank up the AC and catch a snooze on a hot summer day. But this particular spot they headed for that night was a parking lot in the shadows of downtown buildings along Buffalo Bayou.
Barbara Moshe's Eastend home in Club 21. So they got out, beat the hell out of. OK, trigger warning, I have to let you know this next part, it's emotional. Forty years later, and it still feels raw, maybe it's because we're still hearing stories like this today, but it's important to tell. So this is what happened. They beat Hosa with their batons and their bare hands, once they finished, they loaded him bruised and broken back into the squad car and drove him to the jail.
But when he arrived at the jail, looking like he did, the admitting officer wouldn't take him. Houston had had a series of events where prisoners in the jail had either died or been seriously hurt. And so the jail would no longer take a prisoner that had visible scars or marks or look like he was in need of medical attention. So they had already kind of beat the hell out of tourism. The judge said, no, we're not going to take him.
The officers were told to take him instead to a hospital, but they didn't.
So they decided during the drive that they are going to do that. The officers headed back to the whole. Even call buddies who come knocking on the radio and say, meet us at the spot. They got somebody need to teach a lesson.
And so with batons and and flashlights and they basically beat the hell out of Tase.
One of the officers walked Hozier composters to the edge of the lot where. Depending on who you believe, he was either pushed, fell or jumped 20 feet down into the dark, polluted water of Buffalo Bayou, handcuffs were off at that time, but he's already still drunk and sometime between above 11pm and letting him go.
Torez Brown Horsehead died in the murky water buffalo bayou. Houston would never be the same. Chicanas Squad is a production of Vox Media and Frequency Machine, go find it however you send us. Our introduction was produced by Brandon McFarland with Old White and shot Kawa, Stella Hannah Hondros and Jasmine Aguilera by Parker, Alison Deringer and Me. We are a production of New York magazine.
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I'm Avery Friedman. Thanks for listening.