Jan 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Houston to erect memorial for Latino vet killed by police in 1977

The Buffalo Bayou is seen at sunset in Houston, Texas.

The Buffalo Bayou near where Houston police officers left the body of Joe Campos Torres in 1977. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The city of Houston and the family of a Mexican American Vietnam War veteran beaten to death by police in May 1977 — a killing that sparked a deadly riot and ushered in police reforms — have agreed on a memorial.

Why it matters: The planned memorial for Joe Campos Torres comes as cities across the U.S. face a reckoning on systemic racism and confront past cases of police violence against communities of color.

  • Richard Molina, Torres' nephew, told Axios the family has been waiting more than 40 years for the city to formally acknowledge what happened to his uncle.

Details: Mayor Sylvester Turner and Torres’ family came to terms on a memorial last month.

  • Under one proposal, a plaza near the site of Torres' killing would be named after him. Another calls for the creation of a walkway along the Buffalo Bayou, where Torres' body was found.

Flashback: Torres, 23, was arrested at a bar on May 5, 1977, for disorderly conduct. But instead of taking him to a jail, officers took Campos to an isolated area behind a warehouse along the Buffalo Bayou where they beat him and eventually threw his body into the water.

  • Initially, only two officers were charged with murder. An all-white jury found them guilty of negligent homicide — a misdemeanor — and sentenced the officers to a year's probation and a $1 fine.
  • A year later, on Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican American community of Houston's Northside erupted in riots at Moody Park along the Buffalo Bayou.
  • "A Chicano's life is only worth a dollar!" protesters chanted.
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