1971: Police Riot and Protest March in Pharr, TX

During the 1960s and 1970s, cities and towns in Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, California, and several other states saw racial discrimination lead to riots. Pharr, Texas was one of them.

On February 6, 1971 a riot broke out in Pharr between Mexican-American residents and the police force. Like African Americans, Mexican-Americans in Pharr had no say in either politics or social events. They were segregated from the Anglos, living on the north side of the railroad tracks while Anglos lived on the south side. Racist conditions in the town also included a large economic gap, inferior access to education, and police brutality.

On the morning of February 6, three hundred Pharr residents started a protest march against these situations. By the time the march made its way to the police station, it had grown to roughly 3,000 people. Though the protest was peaceful, police and firefighters sprayed high-pressure firehoses on marchers and used tear gas against them. In response, residents began throwing bottles and bricks. Police opened fire, and Alfonso Laredo Flores, 22, was killed. Flores had not taken part in the riot. He was a bystander who came out of a surrounding business, where he was getting his haircut, to see what the commotion was.

It is unclear whether protestors or police made the first violent act, as witness accounts vary, but both protestors and the law enforcement suffered injuries. German Guzman, an eyewitness, recalled, “Everybody was running on top of me, stepping on me, nobody was helping me… Finally I got up.” Guzman was injured and was taken to the hospital along with three firefighters.

Multiple protesters were tried in court and sentenced to five years in jail, while the deputy sheriff, who killed Flores, faced no charges.

texas riot

One of the infamous Pharr Riots that happened during the Chicano movement

Months later, the town was still in a fury, devastated by the loss of Flores, and enraged at the arrests and other injustices. On April 1, there was another peaceful picket at the Pharr Police Station to demand the dismissal of three officers involved in the riot, including Robert Johnson, the deputy sheriff who killed Flores. Johnson was indicted on a charge of negligent homicide, removing him from the police force. After this investigation, there was a movement to restructure the government in the area.

All of the chaos in the community led to a record amount of Hispanic voters wanting to take charge of their government. Many flocked to the voting polls when the next city election came around. This led to the first Hispanics having office in city government, which made it easier for more to follow in their footsteps. There has only been one Anglo mayor since the 1970’s in Pharr, which is the change the Mexican-Americans were wanting to make.

 riot

A photograph of the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) March for Alfonso Flores.

newspaper article

Newspaper Article after the riot.

Work Cited

Newspapers

  • “Apr/20 25th Anniversary of Power Change in Pharr Noted.” Brownsville Herald. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
  • “Rock-Throwers, Pharr Police Clash.” San Antonio Express [San Antonio] 7 Feb. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Pharr Riot Probe Slated.” Valley Morning Star [Harlingen, Texas] 10 Feb. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Chicano Leader Blames Police For Pharr Riot.” The Odessa American 16 Feb. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Recall Plan Sought By Pharr Group.” Lubbock Avalanche- Journal 22 Feb. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Pharr Demonstrators Keep Protest in Order.” Brownwood Bulletin [Brownwood, Texas] 8 Mar. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Pharr Riot Arrests Concluded.” The Corpus Christi Caller-Times 13 Mar. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Deputy, MAYO Leader Arrested In Riot Case.” Lubbock Avalanche- Journal [Edingburg] 12 Mar. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Protest in Pharr Goes Off Quietly.” Abilene Reporter- News [Abilene, Texas] 8 Mar. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Hidalgo Grand Jury Returns 12 Indictments in Pharr Riot.” Del Rio News Hearld [Del Rio, Texas] 11 Mar. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Pickets at Pharr Demand Dismissal of Three Officers.” The Corpus Christi Caller-Times [Corpus Christi, Texas] 18 Apr. 1971: n. pag. Print.
  • “Pharr City Commission Session Conducted Under Police Guard.” Valley Morning Star [Harlington, Texas] 28 May 1971: 7. Print.
  • “Convicted Pharr Riot Figure Seeks New Trial.” Valley Morning Star [Harlingen, Texas] 26 June 1971: 2. Print.
  • “Man Convicted in Disturbance Has Federal Job.” Lubbock Avalanche- Journal [Lubbock, Texas] 1 Sept. 1971: 31. Print.
  • “ACLU to Help Defend in Trail of Rioters.” Valley Morning Star [Harlingen, Texas] 21 Sept. 1971: 2. Print.
  • “Letters to the Editor.” The Brownsville Herald [Brownsville, Texas] 30 Sept. 1971: 21. Print.

Websites

  • “Apr/20 25th Anniversary of Power Change in Pharr Noted.” Brownsville Herald. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
  • Jackie Leatherman. “Not Forgotten: Pharr Police Riots 1971.” The Monitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
  • RYAN HOLEYWELL. “1971 Pharr Riots Recalled to Class of UTPA Students.”Valley Morning Star. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
  • Alicia A. Garza. “PHARR, TX.” GARZA, ALICIA A. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hep05&gt;.

Books

  • Romeo Rosales Jr. “Pharr.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
  • Robert Lee Maril. “Patrolling Chaos.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

Videos

  • “The Avena-Wilson Collection, No. 11 – MAYO March for Alfonso Flores (1971).” Texas Archive of the Moving Image. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

Blogs

Pictures

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