When California Sold Bonds to Pay for Indian Genocide by White Militias, Calling them “Expeditions”

Calling massacres of scores of California Indian tribes by self-organized white militia groups “expeditions,” the state legislature figured that the U.S. federal government would eventually pay for rifles, food, wages and other expenses for the men of these deadly campaigns, going as far as to print bonds with George Washington’s portrait on them before officials in Washington D.C. even approved of the operations. Nevertheless, they figured right.

According to Indian-American historian and UCLA professor Benjamin Madley’s American Genocide: “On May 3, 1852–less than fifteen months after raising $500,000 for ranger militia expeditions against Indians–legislators passed a new $600,000 bond ‘for the payment of the expenses of the Mariposa, Second El Dorado, Utah, Los Angeles, Clear Lake, Klamath, and Trinity, and Monterey Expeditions against the Indians.‘” Madley adds: “The bond issue lured many Californians into financially supporting the [state] killing machine.”

Los Angeles was founded on lands of “otherized” native “Californians” over two centuries ago by people who themselves were “throwaways” for Spanish capital interests. And even before “La Reina…” was the San Gabriel Valley mission, where the Tongva woman Toypurina’s people were held captive. European-Spanish law ruled over L.A. with brute force for at least 50 years, after which Mexican Independence in 1821 wrested power away. The newly liberated Mexican government was supposed to change the mission system which held hostage many native people, but not so unlike today, change took time. Then, it actually wasn’t change.

As UC Merced professor Adam Torres-Rouff tells it in Before L.A.: “After a decade of debate, the territorial authorities, together with the Mexican government, ultimately closed the missions and secularized mission lands, between 1834 and 1836…Once approved, however, California officials failed to implement secularization as designed. Rather than equitably dividing mission property among the former neophytes, they engineered a bonanza for select Mexican Californians.” The select few were Californios, or native Californians of mostly old-world Spanish heritage.

This result was not good for native folks in the state, including in the Southern California area. As Torres-Rouff points out: “Rather than a liberal redistribution, secularization effectively dispossessed Indians from their ancestral and mission lands, and tens of thousands left California’s coastal areas for the less populated interior.” The process also centered them in Spanish towns just before another seismic power shift.

Mexican-Spanish state laws upon native folks were atrocious, though also not surprising given that the Atlantic slave trade to the American continent had been in place for over two centuries by the 1830s; it wasn’t the best of historical moments for universal human rights, one can say. Their laws would not last more than a decade, however, due to U.S. invasion, and in California, insurrection.

Once again from Benjamin Madley’s American Genocide, on the morning of June 14 [1846], white Americans, egged on by rumors of the Mexican Californian state expelling them prior to the U.S.’ declaration of war on Mexico, seized and trapped key Mexican generals. These men also raised a flag that they’d had in mind, one “emblazoned with a star, a grizzly bear, and the words, ‘California Republic.’ ” The design is still the official state flag’s to this day. So violence along racial lines is not new but rather embedded in Los Angeles and California’s separate and interwoven creations.

A photo of the original California state flag of American making; Photo-image from the Museum of the City of San Francisco

But something else extraordinary–and arguably more consequential–happened after the U.S. wrested these areas from Mexican law. That is, violence against otherized people became written in; it became sanctioned. Nothing speaks to this like the California Act for the Governance and Protection of Indians (1850). The Act was a part of the first set of laws passed by California’s first ever legislature, modeled after those established in the earlier colonies turned U.S. territories. According to Madley: “In December 1849, a number of delegates met in Monterey, California to debate about whether or not California Indians should be granted citizenship and/or suffrage. Most of the delegates were against suffrage…”

Although a couple of delegates voiced support for legal rights to be granted to California native peoples, the overwhelming majority of their counterparts didn’t, and so in April 1850 the official dehumanization of others was placed into state law. These laws (or policies) had irreversible effects on the lives of the original stewards of California’s various lands, who were here thousands of years prior to European, Mexican, and American conquests. Madley the notes how: “…between 1850 and 1873 California state judges found whites guilty of very few crimes against California Indians and sentenced only a handful of whites for such crimes.”

Those same laws also likely played no small role in 1871, when both old “Californios,” along with recently arrived whites to Southern California, banded together for a mass lynching in then-L.A.’s Chinatown. In addition to the racial logic of the 1871 attack itself, however, it’s also true that then-L.A.’s Chinatown was not fundamentally different from other non-white areas in that the vicinity was already deeply neglected, which was another policy or design decision along racial lines.

As Torres-Rouff also shows in Before L.A.: “In a particularly malignant Chinatown expose, the [L.A.] Times described ‘long, dark and narrow halls, bare of every touch of civilization…where humanity stands on a level that is scarcely human’…public health [also] singled out Chinese and Chinatown as “human and spatial plagues blighting the city…[and cast blame on] owners for ‘being blind to the universal desire and demand of citizens for the removal of Chinatown…’ “

To some extent these neglected histories are reasonably esoteric to most of us, given that traditional education in the U.S. has buried them for centuries. As humans, we’re also (somewhat) known for our short attention spans. But the state, as the keeper of laws–including officialized or sanctioned violence–has to be held accountable as well. Our media coverage, or any official retelling of these facts, also plays an important role in our understanding–or lack thereof–of the places where we come from and how they’ve been made.


A protester holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall

The Future of the LA Times Depends on Disowning White Supremacy

In November 2016, the world found itself reeling in shock and disappointment that an anti-intellectual, openly racist talk-show host could clinch the hearts and minds of a decisive portion of the electorate to seize the White House. From New York to Los Angeles, newsrooms and editorial chiefs-of-staff across the U.S. conceded they largely failed to take seriously the power of race-baiting among the U.S.’s predominantly white “swing” voters, and promised to be more comprehensive in their political coverage going forward. But four years later, with the threat of a second Trump term on the horizon, in Los Angeles, a clear unwillingness to condemn white supremacy from the L.A. Times shows just how much our intelligentsia still has to learn.

At the height of unrest in Minneapolis and later Los Angeles, when businesses shuttered and police sirens shrieked through nights of “curfew,” the L.A. Times published headlines decrying broken shop-windows and damaged property, with photos of mostly Black and Brown Americans under arrest and awash in turmoil. Meanwhile, on all of the “big five” social media platforms, many saw a different story playing out: window-breakers and vandals were not simply random Black or Brown people, but more often masked, white agitators, so-called “anarchists” with professional training, and Trump supporters exploiting police forces spread too thin attacking unarmed protesters. From L.A. City Hall, Mayor Garcetti responded with armed forces to the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, and once again exposed “democracy” in our city as little more than a poster-board term for government and police organization more ready to defend racial hegemony here than to supply local hospital workers with protective personal equipment in the fight against a global pandemic.

When it came to coverage of these events, or their retelling, scores of people ‘on the ground’ relied on Twitter updates from citizen journalists such as the team at L.A. Taco and StreetWatch L.A., and not on the L.A. Times reporting staff. The biggest reason for this is simply because of the Times’s reputation as an “objective” source, which most experts today agree is just a stand-in term for “coverage without reference to race.” Such coverage by default is not objective reporting for racialized groups, who consistently bear the brunt of police and state violence, but it also plays a major part to obfuscate officials’ roles in acts of violence against such groups.

Consider that Eric Garcetti was originally elected to office in 2013 by only 12.3% percent of L.A. county’s registered voters. Despite such a weak show of support, when protests in L.A. were blamed for damaged property, Garcetti became the commander of an LAPD force that arrested more than 2,700 unarmed protesters in three days, and which at one point jammed those protesters into crowded buses at the height of the worst uncontained respiratory pandemic in over a century.

Garcetti’s mass arrests were an offense against the democratic ideals of free speech and the right to assembly in Los Angeles. But along with Michel Moore and Alex Villanueva, respectively official “chiefs” of the LAPD and the L.A. County sheriff’s department–and backed by Governor Newsom’s National Guard–Garcetti re-branded military law as “curfew.” As the city entered an otherwise undefined legislative realm during the unrest, this euphemization rather easily undermined any notion of democracy in the second largest city in America. Yet the curfew acted not just as a terror for youth, elderly and disabled citizens everywhere who had nothing to do with BLM protests, but also as a restriction on all residents in L.A. County, whether in the city proper or in its suburban respites. The L.A. Times board needed to call this “curfew” out as unacceptable, but instead chose to mostly just “retell” the story, offering virtually no commentary on the larger implications of a military-police state abetted by a “curfew.” Similarly, during coverage of the unrest, the paper relied heavily on officials’ accounts and narratives over the events of the day, even as everyday citizens had far more evidence of aggressive tactics by the LAPD against them than vice versa regarding the danger posed.

Garcetti’s decision to disperse protesters in Los Angeles with SWAT teams and the National Guard also placed him in the same ideological camp of the president despite any “liberal” status. The L.A. Times would thus not have been wrong to juxtapose the way in which whether officials wear red or blue ties, during civic unrest, the vast majority of them side with the state, and by extension, the state’s enforcement of white supremacy. Consider that just a few weeks before the civic unrest the same L.A. Times board published a strong statement lambasting L.A. City Hall’s dirty corruption schemes as exposed by the FBI. Yet smothering protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly with batons and smokescreens was also a dirty corruption of every one of our constitutional rights. Is the editorial board waiting on the FBI for the green-light to make a statement on this?

In any case, renouncing police brutality and white supremacy is not as hard as the editorial rooms may believe. Remember that the very phrase of “white supremacy” itself is not an attack on white people, just as “police brutality” is not an assault on individual police officers. These phrases are observed facts of the structural realities that continually marginalize and criminalize non-white communities in Los Angeles and cities across America. The numbers and stories and data on this have been relayed ad naseum. Yet they still need to be referenced so long as they’re facts on the ground, including from L.A.’s largest paper.

It’s true that calling out such facts ‘on the ground’ should prove difficult for a historically white-owned and white-led paper, especially considering that ownership for decades rested on the Chandler family, an anti-union and pro-white elite dynasty. But it’s for this same reason that acknowledgement of the facts on the ground will be even more fruitful for the paper’s future.

During the height of protests in Washington D.C., when the lights of the White House went dim, Trump and his allies tucked into a bunker, presumably hiding from the “thugs and rapists”–as the administration is fond to label non-white communities–too close to the gates of the White House. In fact they were Black, white and more protesters assembled en masse for Black Lives Matter, and against policies that see mostly white men at both the lowest and highest levels of government consistently face almost no accountability for crimes against the public. In Los Angeles, a similarly multi-ethnic mass has spent the last few months organizing and pleading with officials, looking to have their concerns and proposals meaningfully addressed, only to find at nearly each turn elected officials who are unwilling to meaningfully commit to anti-racist policies and anti-racist budgets. This leaves only the “the fourth estate” to show leadership.

If newsrooms and editorial boards like those of the L.A. Times are serious about an informed populace for a democratic republic, they need to take an active position against the power structures threatening these ideals, including white supremacy. They must do so through consistent anti-racism, including anti-racist stances in their coverage, in their opinion section, and in scrutiny of elected officials’ decisions when they support policies that reinforce racial hegemony. This is not just a matter of what’s been trending on Twitter, but the proven way to hold some of the most powerful actors in our cities and states accountable for their actions.

Taking a stance will not be entirely new or completely innovative, either. In Burlington, Vermont, for example, where the population is more than 85% white, the city recently declared racism a public health concern, which is a good starting point for policy. In turn, continuing to do the opposite, or to remain “objective,” has damaging effects, and only keeps the paper’s credibility and readership low, particularly with non-white communities, a grave concern given the majority non-white demographics of L.A. County. But the fact is that the paper’s low readership has well to do with the impoverishment faced by Black and Brown communities in Los Angeles; it’s not easy for a single mother, for example, to subscribe to the daily news when her first concern is food for her family and keeping a roof overhead. Yet she and millions more like her live here, and the city depends enormously on their labor. Our paper needs to show it truly grasps this.

It’s also true that actively addressing white supremacy each time it rears its head, including in the actions of our local and national officials, will likely to turn some people away. But leaving this battle for scholars and communities of color to keep waging by themselves ‘on the ground’ reeks of the indifference and elitism of the Chandler paper. Moreover, the distinction between ‘just policy’ and policy in defense of racialized hegemony is as important in this election cycle as the distinction between “rebels” and the treasonous, pro-slavery armies they actually were during the civil war.

Less than a century before that war, a small band of white men were written into the nation’s history books as courageous and impeccable ‘founding fathers’ who freed ‘us’ from tyrannic Redcoat soldiers, and who produced the laws of the land which govern millions of citizens to this day. It’s now self-evident that much was omitted from those history books, and that such omissions continue to have consequences. The L.A. Times can thus not afford to continue omitting the legacy of white supremacy from its coverage, just as it cannot afford to ignore the demands for equity made most recently by the paper’s Black and Latinx caucuses. In the same way that Biden has been beckoned to do with his campaign, the paper’s leadership has more than a responsibility to stand in defense of a progressive and inclusive agenda. It has an active interest in it; the future readership of the paper is still waiting to have its concerns meaningfully addressed. It falls on the fourth estate to fill the void. The time is now.