Brown Berets de Houston, No Friends to the Cops – Incendiary Corrects Mistaken Reporting

Photo: The Brown Berets de Houston, Tejatzlan

By Jennifer Kelly, with contributions from David Martinez

In the article “Houston: Chicano Moratorium March Returns Decades After Original” published on July 30, Incendiary made errors and misleading statements in its reporting regarding collaboration with the police observed at the rally. Due to a lack of investigation by the reporter at the event, it was stated that the march was “marred by cooperation with the Houston Police Department,” and that this cooperation was, “engineered by the Houston chapter of the Brown Berets in cooperation with the revisionist Houston Socialist Movement.”

While the article was published months ago, Incendiary is following up in order to correct our mistaken reporting and give Los Brown Berets de Houston, Tejaztlan the chance to challenge the incorrect narrative we published implying they welcomed police cooperation.

In fact, the Houston Brown Berets did not cooperate with the police at the moratorium march, but it was a leader of the Houston Socialist Movement, David Michael Smith, who undermined the Berets leadership without their knowledge and spoke to police, claiming the cops were, ‘very nice’ and, ‘allowing them to take the street.’

“[Smith] shouldn’t be speaking for us,” Willie, a spokesman for the Los Brown Berets de Houston, Tejaztlan told Incendiary, in reference to the revelation. “No one should speak on the Brown Berets’ behalf. We speak on our own behalf.”

Left: Johnny Torres, Right: Willie Rodriguez, of Brown Berets de Houston, Tejatzlan

The reporter who wrote the original piece arranged to sit down with Willie, the official spokesperson of the Houston chapter, following an encounter at a more recent action in September during which the Brown Berets expressed their objections to the article’s assertions. Johnny Torres, a Houston Beret who was quoted out of context in the original article, joined the discussion as well.

Incendiary stated in the original article that “members and leaders of the Houston chapter defended [the police cooperation],” but only two people from the Houston Chapter were interviewed then, neither of which could be said to speak with complete authority for the group, and one of whom was not a full member.

The root of the misreporting stems from observations made prior to the start of the moratorium march on July 27. There, the Incendiary reporter observed Smith and a handful of Brown Berets from various chapters gathered at the corner where the march was set to begin. At this point, the bulk of the Houston chapter and none of its senior members or leaders had arrived.

Soon, officers approached and were received by Smith and a few Brown Berets. None of the Berets speaking with the officers were from Houston or had organized the march. After a few minutes of conversation and a handshake between Smith and the officers, Smith proudly proclaimed that the Houston Police Department was being “very nice” and “allowing [the march] to take the street.”

When Incendiary informed the Houston Brown Berets of this, they were taken aback, saying they certainly had not given Houston Socialist Movement permission to do this. They said it was unacceptable that an outside organizer would cooperate with police at their rally and represent themselves as having authority over the march. “I don’t like it,” Willie told Incendiary, “The best thing you can do is try to avoid and not to answer.”

According to City of Houston public records, no permit was granted by the city or the police to the Brown Berets, or anyone else for the Chicano Moratorium march. Other Brown Beret chapters confirmed that the Houston chapter has always denied that they cooperated with the police at that march, or at any march.

At the march, the police were able to appear cooperative in part because they knew the route, which was readily available on social media and fliers. Some of the other Brown Beret chapters at the rally were in fact sympathetic to the police and advocated cooperating with them. Others, like the San Marcos Brown Berets, openly agitated against their presence.

The Chicano Moratorium March this past July

When this was brought up during the interview with the Houston Brown Berets, they said not all chapters agree on everything and political unity is still out of reach. The lack of nationwide centralization of the Brown Berets has been the norm ever since the era of David Sanchez, a strong-handed chairman who expelled leftists and sowed the seeds for the disparate array of Brown Beret chapters existing today. Going to most cities in the Chicano Nation one can find various groupings claiming the “Brown Beret” name with an added modifier, such as “Autonomous,” “Carnalismo,” “La Causa,” etc., to signify their different political lines.

The Houston chapter were emphatic that they do not cooperate with the police to give them their route or march information, and that they don’t ask for permits. The police, for their part, show up to every Brown Beret action and hound them.

Another march the chapter organized on September 28 seemed to confirm this. As part of a Brown Beret National Day of Action, the chapter carried out a march through the working class Northside barrio to historic Moody Park, where 41 years ago the Chicano masses rioted in response to the police murder of Joe Campos Torres. Again, prior to the march’s start, police cars were at the gathering place. More undercover cars would be stationed throughout the neighborhood.

As the march progressed through Northside, onlookers were drawn to the rally as the Berets and supporters spoke and chanted through a megaphone. The police ordered them to leave the street they were partially obstructing, but the vast majority of the marchers refused to comply and ignored their orders.

The march concluded with a rally at which Houston Berets and supporters made speeches. During one speech, a pair of officers approached the gathering and called over one Beret who spoke to them. They talked for about half a minute before the Beret shook the hand of an officer as they walked away. She told her fellow Berets she was non-cooperative.

Even if she didn’t share what she considered important information, the fact is, shaking the hands of the police sends a message of a degree of respect and cordiality to everyone who sees it; to the people it muddles the line between friend and enemy. The line is clear – the police are the enemy of the working class, of the broad masses, and of the oppressed nations, including the Chicano Nation.

Additionally, the police will use anything you say to them against you and twist your words for their efforts. Any decent lawyer will advise that talking to the police is never a good idea. Even in what appear to be ‘friendly circumstances’ the police are always gathering information that can be used against individuals and organizations.

The sister of Joe Campo Torres holds up a photo of him. Torres was a Chicano Vietnam Veteran murdered by the Houston Police Department.

Johnny Torres, the other Beret who spoke with Incendiary , is the nephew of Joe Campos Torres, a Vietnam veteran who was murdered by Houston police in 1977, sparking combative uprisings of Chicanos in his name against the HPD on that Cinco de Mayo (held on May 5, Cinco de Mayo a holiday celebrated by many Chicanos in the Southwest). Johnny found the idea of police cooperation totally insulting to his uncle’s memory.

Johnny told Incendiary that the questions posed to him on the ground at the Moratorium march in July weren’t direct or clear. He said the reporter asked him, “Did you like when the police come and they help y’all? [I said] no, but they’re going to be here anyway, whether we like it or not. Sometimes we’re one step ahead, sometimes they’re one step ahead.”

Images from the Chicano uprising on Cinco de Mayo (May 5) in the name of Joe Campo Torres against the Houston Police Department

Although the Berets avoid police collaboration, they do work with the Houston Socialist Movement who have no qualms with direct collaboration with the police. The Brown Berets de Houston are listed alongside Houston Socialist Movement as one of the members of the reformist “Free Los Niños Coalition.” The coalition regularly protests outside of the Southwest Key child detention center in downtown Houston under heavy police regulation, which includes barricades set up to designate protest areas.

“We don’t believe in being put behind cages,” Willie said. “It gives cops total control. It’s dangerous.” While the Berets themselves expressed disgust at the idea of allowing themselves to be behind a police barricade, the Houston Socialist Movement does just that.

David Michael Smith, the leader of the Houston Socialist Movement who undermined the Brown Berets at the Chicano Moratorium March, as also been known to act similarly at other events he is not leading. Smith claims to be ‘Marxist,’ but he is only a revisionist who opportunistically uses revolutionary ideas to distort Communist politics. He is also infamous for open carrying a rifle at demonstrations, even as he seeks friendly relations with bourgeois police forces.

The Berets said they disagree with permits and police collaboration, but when asked if they’ve ever confronted groups like Houston Socialist Movement and struggled with them over police cooperation, they said no, but, “it’s a good idea.”

David Michael Smith and the Houston Socialist Movement protesting behind barricades

The people must put ideas into practice and engage in political struggle to strengthen their ability to effectively combat the dying imperialist state. Incorrect ideas such as a neutral or positive orientation to the police must be struggled against actively.

In addition, liquidationist concepts such as “left unity” discourage the full discussion of ideas and politics and lure sincere potential revolutionaries away from political and revolutionary struggle. In particular, oppressed nations people such as Chicanos should not let groups like Houston Socialist Movement lead them directly into the lion’s jaws. Revisionists such as Houston Socialist Movement exist to serve the ruling class bourgeoisie by presenting false revolutionary politics and advocate for unprincipled peace with the capitalist state.

Incendiary does not seek to spread disinformation, and the reporter in question did just that by not thoroughly investigating the situation before coming to a conclusion. By doing more investigation, asking direct questions, and speaking to the main organizer of the event directly about what they had observed and their concerns, this misinformation could have been avoided. As the Houston Chapter of the Brown Berets put it, this was “just a big misunderstanding,” but a very serious one.

The number one enemy of the Chicano Nation – and the world’s peoples – is US Imperialism. Within the US, the police are the principal enforcers of the domination of US Imperialism and the bourgeoisie over the masses and the oppressed nations within its borders. While it is correct to never cooperate with the police, it is not enough. Propaganda and agitation must be carried out against them, and they must be combatted and resisted.

The masses must be educated in waging war against their class enemies, and they must be prepared to fight the police as repression inevitably increases. Incendiary stands with all those who are committed to liberation for the oppressed nations and the world proletarian revolution and encourages struggling for unity with all people ready to take up these important tasks.