When Houston cops arrested and brutally beat Vietnam war veteran Joe Campos Torres on Cinco de Mayo (May 5), 1977, the jailers refused to book him. They told the cops to take him to the hospital. Instead, police officers took him back to the banks of Buffalo Bayou and beat him some more. Then they threw him handcuffed into the murky bayou waters and said, “Let’s see if the [racist expletive deleted] can swim.”
Torres’s body was found a few days later on Mother’s Day. “The cops got off with a $1.00 fine, but my family and the community were outraged. We fought for decades for some response from the city. It finally came last year when the new police chief apologized to my grandmother and our family,” said Torres’s nephew, Richard Molina.
For the last seven years, a solidarity caravan has retraced the route from where Torres was arrested to where he was murdered. The City of Houston commissioned and hung a giant portrait of Torres on the side of the downtown building adjacent to where he was beaten and thrown into the bayou. Organizers also won the dedication of a plaza to him.
This year on May 6, local Aztec dancers in brightly colored Native headdresses and regalia led a solidarity walk in Torres’s honor.
Janie Torres, Joe’s younger sister, gave moving testimony: “I was only 10 when my brother was murdered 46 years ago; my family has never been the same. I love everyone for coming out each year to remember him, and I ask for unity in this struggle that not only affects my family but all families who have lost a loved one to police murder.”
Another sister, Margaret Torres, said that she was named after her mother, who has suffered terribly during all these years. “She had breakdowns, because the pain was too much to bear. We’re thankful she has lived long enough to finally hear the Houston police apologize for Joe’s murder.”
Joe Campos Torres, ¡presente!