History in the Making

Document Type



During the late 1960s and into the early 1970s the Brown Berets were heavily involved in the Chicano Movement. They formed as a group of students with the goal of reforming the inequalities Hispanic people faced within the Los Angeles school system, though the greater circumstances quickly led the Brown Berets into the direction of being a militant organization with their focus shifting to police brutality and the Vietnam War. As a result of this shift they became an enemy of the local police and later the federal government. Thus, the Berets adopted the motto, “To Serve, Observe, and Protect,” which they consciously chose as it was extremely similar to the motto of the LAPD (To Protect and To Serve). Using this motto indicated that the Berets believed they were, or should have been, the police of the community. Both the Berets and the Los Angeles police department engaged in what can be called a war of words, in order to discredit one another. Protests, marches, and violence would result from this widening rift between the young militant Chicanos and the local police. The research gathered and presented in this paper allows one to dissect the effects of this hateful relationship and conclude that police harassment, brutality, and infiltration ultimately contributed to the collapse of the Berets, but not before it helped propel the overall Chicano movement. This study not only highlights the negative relationship between the Brown Berets of East Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), but also the tensions between the Berets and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, as well as with the federal government, as the movement gained momentum. These relationships will all be examined within the context of police and legal harassment, brutality, and infiltration tactics put into practice by these institutions against the Chicanos.