At 2:00 pm, on Christmas Day, 1913, the Industrial Workersof the World gathered for a peaceful rally in protest of unemployment in the city. The rally was in response to the continued recruitment of new workers into the city by local business leaders with the intent to drive wages down. The crowd of roughly 1500 people consisted mostly of Mexican laborers, who were affected most by this policy.
The first speaker was W.C. Owen, an English-born radical and editor of the English section of Regeneracion. Owen spoke to the crowd in English without incident. However, when the Secretary Treasurer of the Mexican branch of IWW, Armando Ojeda, attempted to speak to the crowd in Spanish, police attempted to shut the event down, claiming the event did not have the proper permits.
An officer grabbed Ojeda by his legs and jerked him off the chair he was standing. When a man from the crowd protested the officer’s actions, the offer assaulted him with a club, leaving a gash on his head. Police proceeded to hit others in the crowd as they began to disperse. At first the crowd did not fight back. However, angered, the crowd began to respond by pelting the police officers with rocks. Police then began to open fire into the crowd.
The disturbance moved from the fountain in the center of the Plaza to the top of Sanchez Street on the south side of the Plaza near the Pico House. During the commotion, a Mexican anarchist and member of the IWW, Rafael Adames, was shot. The officer that shot him, Alfred Koenigheim, claimed that Adames was pointing a “vicious-looking .38” at a fellow officer. It was for this reason that he claimed he opened fire at Adames. However, no gun was ever found.
Raphael Adames was taken across the street to the IWW headquarters on Los Angeles Street in Chinatown. They laid him down on a bench underneath a picture of Karl Marx, where he soon passed.
The riot continued until 7:30 pm with pitch battles taking place in the surrounding area between police and Mexican residents. By the next day, the streets were cleared and martial law was imposed. The LAPD began a series of raids of businesses in the area looking for alleged suspects.
In total 73 people were arrested; of those, 53 were Mexican. 40 were eventually tried; 10 were convicted. One juror was later quoted to say, “We had to convict some of them. We must support the police. They protect our property.”
In the wake of the riot, pro-business and government contingents pushed for a city ordinance to ban public speaking without a permit. The ordinance was passed thanks to the anti-Mexican and immigrant rhetoric used by the pro-business side. However, a progressive element within the city council was able to alter the ordinance allowing free speech within the Plaza only.
Most important was the ban on tamale wagons near and around the Plaza. Police claimed that idlers would hang around the wagons and absorb new ideas of unrest and revolt sown by the I.W.W. and anarchist orators. Some suggested that the railroads nearby were also responsible for this “horde of Spanish-Indian half-breeds in the city.”
As for Adames, he left behind a wife and two children, ages 7 and 11. His funeral was held on January 5th. A procession of roughly 250 people marched through the streets of Los Angeles, beginning at New High and ended at his resting place at the Odd Fellow Cemetery.