Murder of Joe Campos Torres
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Jose Campos Torres
José Campos Torres
December 20, 1953
|Died||May 5, 1977 (aged 23)|
|Cause of death||Drowning|
|Body discovered||Floating in the Buffalo Bayou|
|Known for||Police murder victim|
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1974–1976|
|Website||Solidarity Walk Houston|
José Campos Torres (December 20, 1953 – May 5, 1977) was a 23-year-old Mexican-American and Vietnam veteran who was ruthlessly beaten by several Houston Police Department (HPD) officers that subsequently led to his death. He was assaulted by a group of on-duty police officers after being arrested for disorderly conduct at a bar in Houston's Mexican-American East End neighborhood. The officers convicted for the death of Torres, at the state level, received minimal sentencing; 1 year probation and a $1 fine. Torres' murder and sentencing sparked community outrage and lead to multiple community protests, with one gathering escalating to a riot. His death lead to advocacy based non-profits and HPD official's negotiations leading to the addition of policies addressing police-community racial relations.
After Torres' arrest at the bar, the officers took him to the city jail for booking. But, he was struck so brutally that authorities refused to book him into the jail. Instead, the police officers were ordered, by a supervisor, to take Torres to a local hospital for immediate medical treatment. The officers did not comply with the supervisor's order. Three days later, on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, 1977 his dead body was found severely beaten and floating in the Buffalo Bayou, a creek on the outskirts of downtown Houston.
Terry W. Denson and Steven Orlando two of the arresting officers were charged with murder following the discovery of Torres' body. Three other officers were fired from the HPD by Police Chief B.G. Bond, but no criminal charges were brought against the fired officers. A rookie officer who was present at the scenes of Torres' torture and drowning was a key witness for the prosecution. Denson and Orlando were convicted for Torres' death and found guilty of negligent homicide (a misdemeanor), sentenced to one year of probation and a one dollar fine. The all white jury, minimized criminal convictions, and sentencing sparked community outrage leading to multiple protests and the 1978 Moody Park Riot. The investigation of Torres' murder proved controversial. Following the State of Texas convictions of the two former officers, the Torres case was reviewed at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Justice. Which led to three of the officer's federal convictions, for violating Torres' civil rights.
Torres' murder generated significant newspaper articles across the United States, while national televised mainstream media has no history of 'special' reports nor any episodes reporting the circumstances leading to his murder. Newspaper outlets initially focusing on his assault and drowning soon turned their attention to the historic racism, lack of HPD over watch and the reoccurring absence of state and federal investigations.
Torres' murder lead to a locally produced, 30-40 minute documentary entitled The Case of Joe Campos Torres revealing the murderous event and the repeated history of police misconduct in Houston. The year following his death, a poetic song by vocalist and activist Gil Scott-Heron, titled "Poem for José Campos Torres" was created reflecting the struggles of racism and police criminal actions.
Torres was born in a Houston barrio and was raised within poverty. Unfortunately, he only achieved an eighth-grade education level. It is believed a side effect of the poverty he experienced led to his constant struggle with his social demeanor.
According to family and friends, his dream was to run and own a karate school. He wanted to open the school near his East End Houston neighborhood, allowing him to teach young ones the art of self-defense. To pursue his dream, he realized that he needed a General Education Diploma (GED), a driver's license and a job as a lineman with a telephone company.
Richard Vargas, Torres' longtime friend, said that when Torres was 23 he was still lost emotionally and was fighting a sporadic problem with alcohol. Torres would occasionally become very intoxicated; friends and family say this would trigger his aggression, in wanting to fight. Torres' younger brothers, Gilbert, 20 and Ray, 16 acknowledged that Torres had an occasional problem with alcohol abuse. "Alcohol really got to him sometimes." Vargas said, "Sometimes when he drank a lot he wanted to fight ... I didn't like to be around Joe when he was drinking. When he got drunk, he'd start practicing his karate. He'd yell and kick and punch at the air." When Torres was a teenager he got into a lot of fights, but had confided with Vargas and told him he knew the fighting would not get him anywhere.
Torres' father, José Luna Torres Jr., 46, said his son spent two years in the United States Army (U.S. Army). During his military service, he was accepted and undergoing Army Ranger training at Fort Bragg North Carolina. While in ranger training, he was separated from the service in September 1976, under a 'general discharge.' It is reported his abuse of alcohol and anger outbursts are what ultimately led to his early release from the U.S. Army. His brother Gilbert said, "Before the service, Joe was bum and a drifter, but after he got out he really cut down on the drinking ... The normal Joe was different from the drunk Joe." He said, "The drunk Joe got rowdy easy and he [take] things the wrong way sometimes."
Just two weeks before his death, Torres found employment as a glass contractor earning $2.75 an hour. Vargas said, Torres had difficulty staying employed since his discharge from the U.S. Army. He said Torres resented his restriction to tedious, low paying jobs due to his low education level and nominal military skills. Even though Torres had received, while in the military, training as a telecommunication's lineman not having his GED and a driver's license were barriers to employment with a potential telecommunications provider.
Vargas said, Torres' true passions were physical fitness and the art of karate. After his return from the U.S. Army he was working to receive a black belt (expert) rating in karate. In addition to his progress in karate, he also under went weight training and jogged, frequently attaching weights to his feet.
Torres had been arrested for disorderly conduct at a bar in Houston's predominantly Hispanic East End neighborhood. The six police officers who responded took Torres to a spot called "The Hole" next to the Buffalo Bayou and beat him. The officers then took Torres to the city jail, who refused to process him due to his injuries. They were ordered to take him to Ben Taub Hospital, but instead of doing so, the officers took him back to the banks of Buffalo Bayou and pushed him into the water. Torres's body was found two days later.
Officers Terry W. Denson and Steven Orlando were tried on state murder charges. They were convicted of negligent homicide and received one year of probation and a $1 fine. Denson, Orlando and fired officer Joseph Janish were later convicted of federal civil rights violations in 1978, and served nine months in prison.
Moody Park Riot
|1978 Moody Park Riot|
Moody Park; Houston, Texas
|Date||May 7–8, 1978|
Moody Park; Houston, Texas, U.S.
|Caused by||Reaction to light sentencing of police officers in the murder of Joe Campos Torres|
|Goals||• Civil rights • Ending police brutality • Ending police racism|
|Methods||• Arson • Assault • Looting • Rioting • Shooting • Property damage|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
|Casualties and losses|
|"Free The Moody Park 3" legal fund started|
On the one year anniversary of José Campos Torres' murder a riot was started at Moody Park located in Houston's Near Northside neighborhood. The riot broke out on the evening of Saturday, May 7, 1978 at approximately 7:30 pm, once a Cinco de Mayo fiesta event ended at the park. Between five and six thousand people attended the celebration.
It was the greatest miscarriage of public trust by police officers in my 27 years of wearing a badge.— Harry Robinson, Former Houston Police Chief, Houston History Magazine
Police arrived at the park in response to a call for an incident of disorderly conduct. It remains unclear on how the riot started. Some reports reflect that the officers were making a few arrests and this is when people in the event began yelling, "No you are not taking them" and "You'll kill them the way you killed José Campos Torres". The crowd's initial yelling immediately lead people to begin chanting in unison "Justice for Joe Torres" "Viva Joe Torres" and "A Chicano's life is worth more than a dollar!" The crowd then began throwing bottles and rocks at the officers.
The Fulton Village shopping center's stores at 2900 Fulton street, were looted and set on fire. Abe Weiner, an owner of a department store in the shopping center, said it took the fire department over an hour to respond to his emergency 9-1-1 call for help. Three large buildings and two smaller ones in the shopping center were looted and stripped by fires. The rioting escalated to over a ten-block area adjacent to Moody Park. A total of six stores and one gasoline station were set on fire.
Officers were promptly deployed in riot gear to try and control the gathering of approximately 1,500 people according to police (other estimates reflect 150-300) who took part in the riot. Some rioters had flipped cars over and set them on fire, fourteen of the eighteen smashed and burned cars were police cars. The property damage of businesses and police vehicles reached $500,000. At least 28 people were taken into custody after the violence started in the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood. The incident and all the fires were finally under control at 3:00 am.
Houston police officer Tommy A. Britt suffered a broken leg when hit by a car while trying to close off one of the streets involved in the riot. The driver Rogelio Castillo did not pull over, but was apprehended a few blocks away from the incident. The first news reporters to arrive at the scene were KPRC-TV reporter Jack Cato, and reporter/photographer Phil Archer. Both were beaten and stabbed. Cato suffered a punctured lung from a stab wound in the lower back. Archer was hit in the face with a brick and then stabbed in the left hip while lying unconscious on the pavement. Rioters attempted to smash the camera he was carrying. It was later recovered, badly damaged. Cato managed to bring out the video shot during the attack which shows some of the rioters surrounding a burning Houston Fire Department ambulance supervisor's car. The riot's violence left a total of five police officers, two news personnel and eight rioters injured and hospitalized. None of the fifteen hospitalized people died due to their injuries.
Author Dwight Watson dedicated the chapter "The Storm Clouds of Change: The Death of José Campos Torres and the Emergence of Triracial Politics in Houston" in the book Race and the Houston Police Department, 1930–1990 A Change Did Come. The chapter covers the impact of Torres' murder on society and changes in Houston's policing policies.
It brought people who were very conservative and very quiet to become very vocal and very political and people began to hold the police accountable.— Dwight Watson, "Moody Park–The Aftermath", interview by Houston Public Media
Poem for José Campos Torres
| "Poem for José Campos Torres"|
Vocalist and activist Gil Scott-Heron, known as the "Godfather of Rap" and for his sociology charged spoken word performances in the '70s. Scott-Heron's best-known recording is the 1971 released "The Revolution Will Not be Televised", this artwork characterizes unashamed consumerism.
Scott-Heron's artistry based on self-fortitude and resentment of racism spanned across racial cultures and was popular among both African-Americans and Latinos. In 1978, the year following Torres' murder, he targeted community awareness of the murder and created a poetic song focusing on America's systemic abuse of Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics in the heartfelt "Poem for José Campos Torres." The song was released as track 4 of the album titled; The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron.
Scott-Heron saw Torres as a brother and made his familial tie to Torres in the lyrics, here is a quote from the song:
♪ But brother Torres, common ancient bloodline brother Torres is dead ♪
♪ I had said I wasn't going to write no more poems like this ♪
♪ I had said I wasn't going to write no more words down ♪
♪ About people kicking us when we're down ♪
♪ About racist dogs that attack us and drive us down, drag us down and beat us down ♪
♪ But the dogs are in the street ♪— Gil Scott-Heron, "Poem for José Campos Torres", Album: The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron
El Ballad De José Campos Torres
| "El Ballad De José Campos Torres"|
(0:53 - 5:29)
Charanga Cakewalk is the stage name for Michael Ramos, a self-described Latino Chicano Mexican who is also a citizen of the world. Ramos, from Austin, TX, is an instrumental artist who passes a distinguishing sound of Latino music onto the next generation of artistry. Ramos has played numerous instruments in studios and on-tours for John Mellencamp, Patty Griffin, Los Lonely Boys, Paul Simon and multiple notable artist. His artwork is self-styled as Cumbia-Tronic that soars between absorbed Electronic Dance and cultivated genres of Cumbia, Ranchera, Folklorica, and Garage Rock.
In March 2006, Charanga Cakewalk released the album Chicano Zen. The album has multiple instrumental songs, track 11 the closing song is the instrumental titled: "El Ballad de José Campos Torres", with a synth, accordion and piano drift inspired by the life of Torres:
So many people think of what happened to José Campos Torres, but I got [to] thinking about him as a person, who he was, what he felt, how he lived.— Michael Ramos, The Zen of Revolution
Moody Park Riot (José Campos Torres)
|"Moody Park Riot (José Campos Torres)"|
In 2014 Nuño Records published, via SoundCloud, the song "Moody Park Riot (José Campos Torres)" written by Juan Nuño performed by Jesse James at Houston, TX. The lyrics depict Torres' beating and drowning along with events tied to the 1978 Moody Park Riot.
Interview with Janie Torres
|"Joe Campos Torres, 40 years ago"|
Art Browning hosted a television interview with Torres' little sister Janie Torres. The episode, produced by Green Watch Television (GWTV), is titled: "Joe Campos Torres, 40 years ago", first aired: Wednesday, April 26, 2017, duration: 24 min. When Browning asked about her thoughts on the establishment of Black Lives Matter she replied:
"Wow I was amazed, it was something that was so well, well over due for the people" she continued, "Justice is equal, justice is what we deserve that's all we want, we don't want anymore any less."— Janie Torres, "Joe Campos Torres, 40 years ago" (interview)
At the closing of the interview, Janie Torres, who was only a 10-year-old when her brother's life was taken, announced plans for an annual solidarity walk in memory of her brother. The walk is targeted across all generations with the focus on awareness of police racism across the nation. The second annual walk and rally occurred on May 6, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Janie plans on continuing to hold the walks annually, to be held on the yearly anniversaries of her brother's murder. For social awareness she has posted the walk on a Facebook homepage; "Joe Campos Torres Solidarity Walk For Past & Future Generations".
The Case of Joe Campos Torres
The documentary The Case of Joe Campos Torres recounts the calendar of events and ensuing community-protest assemblies, community/police department discussions, along with the legal actions taken by the Torres family against the Houston Police Department and the City of Houston.
Filmed around Houston, the documentary records the Latino communities reaction to what they witnessed as an act of racial injustice against their population. The documentary, approximately 30 – 40 minutes in length, replays raw footage taken from local news station's archives. The footage is used as a reminder to viewers that before video cameras were able to bring police misconduct to light, the family of Torres had to rely on community support to help them find justice.
The film was produced in 1977 by Tony Bruni and Houston's KPRC-TV, Channel 2. Carlos Calbillo both wrote and edited the film and it was reported by John Quiñones, who is now with ABC News and hosts the series What Would You Do?.
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... all while chanting slogans like "Viva Joe Torres!" "Justice for Joe Torres!" and "A Chicano's life is worth more than a dollar!"
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Image 9 of 37 - Caption
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The mob of about 1,500 according to police (other estimates say 150-300) ...
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José Campos Torres | Produced by Gil Scott-Heron | Album The Mind of Gil Scott Heron
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Track:11, Title: El Ballad De Jose Campos Torres, Duration: 4:50
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