August 27, 1927
All it takes to be considered insane these days is to assert your First Amendment right to free speech…with a knife.
According to night watchman F.M. Winchester, he was making his rounds when a man confronted him shouting, “Down with America! Sacco is dead!” The agitated man then lunged at him with a shiv.
The aptly named Winchester fired three shots above the man’s head, at which time the stranger turned and ran off into the night. The shots drew a crowd of on-lookers and police to Miller’s Alley near Marengo Avenue.
Detective Sergeants Cheek, Mansell, and Officer Armer followed the trail of the alleged lunatic, who was subsequently identified as Elias Soto Hernandez. The suspect was arrested at 230 East Union Street and transported to the County Hospital in Los Angeles on suspicion that he may be insane.
Hernandez was protesting the execution in Massachusetts of Italian born anarchists and convicted murderers, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Their executions on August 23rd followed two trials of dubious fairness. Both trials were presided over by Judge Webster Thayer who displayed a blatant bias against the defendants. During the second trial, defense motions made by California attorney Fred Moore were frequently denied by the Judge who said, "No long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!" Thayer was also overheard referring to Sacco and Vanzetti as, “…those anarchistic bastards…”.
Whether or not the men were guilty of robbery and murder remains a topic for debate. What is certain is that their case was the culmination of the first so-called “Red Scare” which began amid the violence, chaos, and political unrest circling the globe during World War I.
World wide protests had failed to save the condemned men from the electric chair, but fifty years later on August 23, 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis (who became the democratic presidential nominee in 1988) issued the proclamation that the men had been treated unjustly and that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names."