A Dark City: Racism and Corruption in Fontana, California
by Carlos Avalos
Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell the masses a lie enough times, they will soon believe it.” Unfortunately, people chose to accept what is told to them rather than seeking out the truth. Often the vast majority of people do not like to be inconvenienced by reading or researching facts surrounding crucial issues within our society. Many people wait to be spoon feed a particular doctrine or information without validating the source or the facts. Not all but much of society sits complacently while others diligently seek the truth and battle for justice. As a result, we as a society suffers as the powerful fists of reality continue to beat us into submission over and over again.
If you ask most people in the United States if they have heard of Fontana, CA you get a few responses that say isn’t that a town next to Los Angeles? But most people will have no idea what or where the city is let alone the history of it. To understand the racism and corruption that has been living in the city of Fontana, its city government, and police department one must connect the dots and signs that show how Fontana got to its current situation. The current situation I speak of is as of 2017 Fontana’s police force, and city government is racist and corrupt. This is not something that just happened mid-1800, but something that is ingrained into the fabric of Fontana and other cities neighboring it. San Bernardino County is notorious for having some of the worst air quality in the United States, as well as being known for being one of the most corrupt countries in the world. San Bernardino County is the biggest county in the U.S, with 31 cities in the county.
Specifically, Fontana has been known to be one of the racist and corrupt out of all of the cities in the county. Although no one can exactly pinpoint when the corruption started in the Fontana P.D or its city government, the pre cursor for racism in Fontana as a whole depending on whom you ask can be pinpointed to around the mid 1800’s on the famous Route 66.
On the close outskirts of Fontana entering into its neighboring city to the west, Rancho Cucamonga on Route 66 still lays Sycamore Inn, which as of today is a steakhouse. During this period of time, the dirt road that ran past the Sycamore Inn’s became the main thoroughfare from the city of San Bernardino to the growing areas of Los Angeles and further west. William Rubottom realized the significance of having a strategically placed inn where travelers could stop to eat and wet their whistle, as well as sleep. William Rubottom known as “Uncle Billy” was a Southerner from Missouri. Soon his stage coach stop became a favorite meeting place for Southern sympathizers during the Civil War. Uncle Billy can also be accredited for introducing slavery into the area. This is extremely significant in the history of Fontana and neighboring cities for many reasons. If Sycamore Inn was known to be Southern Confederate friendly then one could assume that many people friendly to the Southern cause and mindset came to this inn and area because they knew that they would not be shunned away.
After the Civil War Southern loyalists could not just move and start a new life anywhere, especially if they still had their views and mindset about slavery despite losing the war. They needed to go to places and start a new way of life in places that were gentle to their cause or where like-minded people were. Thus, it can be assumed that if there was an influx of people coming to Fontana and neighboring areas who were Southerners, there was a good chance that they stayed local in the area and started a new life after the Civil War. California was not only getting these new people to the area, they were also getting their religion, beliefs, and mindsets as well. It is not farfetched to believe that this is in fact how and when the racist views of the city of Fontana and its police department started.
Fontana was founded in 1913 by Azariel Blanchard Miller. Within a few short years, Fontana became known for its chicken ranches, vineyards, and citrus orchards. Fontana originally was an agricultural town.
During World War II Fontana was greatly transformed when Henry J. Kaiser built one of the only two steel mills west of the Mississippi River in Fontana. Kaiser Steel was a large producer of metal parts and steel framing for Liberty Ships during the war. In the 1980’s Kaiser Steel filed for bankruptcy after a revenue loss of over 125 million dollars. Over 5,000 people were employed in the small city of Fontana, which upset many blue collar workers, who were predominantly White.
Racial tension during this time and years before were already high in Fontana between Blacks and Whites. The Ku Klux Klan established its headquarters in Fontana. KKK Grand Wizard George Pepper and White Aryan Resistance (WAR) leader Tom Metzger claimed Fontana and the Inland Empire as their California Eastern Territory for White Supremacy. Around this time sub groups such as the Hells Angels Biker Gang which originated in Fontana, Nazi Low Riders (NLR), all began to flourish in the city of Fontana, without being eradicated by the Fontana P.D. Many incidents of discrimination and hate crimes were unsolved and poorly investigated, if any investigations were conducted at all. Many African Americans and Hispanics complained of the racial tension within the city of Fontana, but their complaints fell on deaths ears.
The story of O’Day short is one of the most horrific tragedies to happen in the city of Fontana. O’Day H. Short, his wife, and two children purchased a home in Fontana, and they were threatened with violence to move to a Negro Ghetto area outside of Fontana. O’Day short was African American. Short stood his ground and refused to move. Two weeks later his home burned to the ground. His wife and kids succumbed to burns, O’Day Short held onto life for a few weeks but he later died. O’Day Short moved his family from Los Angeles to Fontana because of a housing shortage. He bought a lot in Fontana; when he started building his home he was approached by two Deputy Sheriffs Tex Cornelison and Joe Glines.
The two officers told O’Day Short that “he was out of bounds and to avoid problems he should move his family to a northern part of the city where African Americans lived.” There was no legal basis for the Sheriff’s meeting with O’Day Short and telling him this. This visit and warnings of these two Deputy Sheriffs are recorded in the Sheriff’s office in San Bernardino. Short reported the threats to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I), and also told his story to the Los Angeles Sentinel an African American Newspaper on December 6, 1945. Ten days later on December 16th, the horrible incident took place. Two days later the tragic incident of the Short family was reported in the newspaper as an accidental fire. O’Day Short’s sister in law Carrie Morrison asked for an inquest into the death of the family; she was met with resistance from the County Coroner. The Coroner resisted because they claimed that the incident was clearly an accident. Only after constant pressure was an inquest into the fire granted. Many African American newspapers bringing light to the incident called on California Attorney general at the time Robert Kenny to get involved. Because of this, the San Bernardino County District Attorney Jerome B. Kavanaugh allowed the inquest.
District Attorney Kavanaugh interviewed Short personally about the incident while Mr. Short was in the hospital because of his injuries from the fire. Mr. Short told the D.A that he was in no condition to answer any questions concerning the incident until he was competent to do so and with the help of his attorney. The D.A wanted to know if the fire in Short’s mind was accidental or a criminal act. Documents show that Short was pressured into admitting that this incident could have been an accident. That was all the D.A wanted to hear. Later when O’Day Short was in better condition he conveyed to representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People N.A.A.C.P that the fire was an “incendiarist act of vigilantes.”
The only physical evidence that was involved in this case was a lantern that supposedly malfunctioned and caused the fire of O’Day Shorts home. The biggest piece of physical evidence was discarded by the by the police and not looked upon as having any significant value.
Many times during the trial friends of the family and family of the Short’s spoke up and wanted to talk about the threats made to O’Day Short and his family that was well documented, but the police or the D.A for some mysterious reason did not want to talk about it. Very quickly the verdict was given and the inquest was closed. The only sole survivor was O’Day Short and instead of waiting for him to recover and give a competent statement; the statement taken from him by the D.A when he was in horrible physical condition was used. An arson investigation was conducted on behalf of the N.A.A.C.P, not on behalf of the authorities. Paul T. Wolfe had over 25 years of arson experience with the Los Angeles Arson Bureau. He conducted a highly extensive analysis of the burnt remains of the Short’s house, as well as a chemical analysis. His report concluded that there was another highly flammable substance found at the Shorts house other than Kerosene which was claimed to have been the reason the lamp exploded. Mr. Wolfe also stated in his professional opinion and entire time conducting arson work has never ever seen an incident where kerosene caused such a huge explosion. The explosion at the Short’s house caused the walls of a home to blow out.
The facts of this incident are simple. In Fontana we have an African American man trying to create a life for him and his family. O’Day Short and his family were threatened by members of the community to move because of the color of their skin. They were also warned or somewhat threatened by local law enforcement to move because their mere presence would create a problem because Fontana at this time was primarily filled with white residents who did not look to kindly upon African Americans. The District Attorney in this case who is supposed to seek the truth and hold people who break the law accountable did everything but that.
Important evidence was mishandled, and proper investigation skills were not conducted to find the truth. Expert testimony was ignored, and the all around handling of this case was mediocre at best. I believe in this particular incident we were not dealing with an incompetent police force, but we were dealing with a corrupt and racist police force and D.A at the minimum. This incident still lingers in the minds of Fontana residents. Although this type of blatant racism is not happening in Fontana as of 2017, it is happening in more covert ways.
On July 1st, 1980 Pacific Bell Lineman Dovard Howard while working on an elevated line in Fontana was shot with a shotgun, which left him paralyzed. Howard’s son reported that at this current point in time he could remember crosses being burnt on lawns in Fontana. This type of behavior is something that most people only witness through a cinematic experience, but in Fontana decades ago, this was real life. And this was not in the South where this type of behavior is attributed. This was on the West Coast. Around this point and time and earlier there was an unwritten rule in Fontana. African Americans were not welcome south of Baseline Street in the northern part of the city. The Northern part of Fontana was agricultural. It had grape and citrus groves, as well as hog farms. Larry West Deane was arrested for this incident. It was later discovered that Deane was part of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, not the KKK. Fontana Police Sergeant at the time Mickey Carns stated that Fontana “in fact did not have a race problem, that they have a good ethnic mixture of diversity.” During this period and time, the initials KKK could easily be found throughout Fontana spray painted onto benches, bus stops, and on the side of liquor stores.
Cross burnings, segregated neighborhoods, KKK rallies and marches on city hall were all a part of the dark history of Fontana. One must ask why KKK and other white supremacist groups felt comfortable establishing their organizations in the city of Fontana? The answer is simple, what a person or city tolerates or finds acceptable is what they allow.
From the inception of the Fontana police department in the early 1950’s until the present time, there has been a deep-rooted stench of supremacy which haunts the halls of the city, its government, and the police department. Like the hatred and bigotry passed on from generation to generation by the Nazi parties, racist fathers and grandfathers chose to share their tainted views with their friends and family in an effort to keep segregation alive. The only difference between racism now and in the past is that in many cases it is still institutionalized, but now it is covert.
Members of the Fontana P.D whom are current active officers and retired have told me that the racism in Fontana is shrewder. In regards to the police department the white hierarchy of the department will organize behind closed doors to prevent a minority or person they do not like from getting hired. They hire their family members and recruit their friends. They will ostracize anyone who does not think like them. This is a little history of the dark city that I call home, Fontana. While conducting research about Fontana and its police department I have came across but is not limited to billboards being used for KKK recruiting devices, chiefs of police having Nazi swastikas tattooed on them, unfair treatment of minority officers, murder, corruption, and falsifying documents. The problem with racism in Fontana is that it is institutionalized. The problem with corruption in Fontana is that it is the norm in the city and the entire San Bernardino County. I encourage people to pay attention to what is going on in Fontana, CA. The truth is starting to be revealed, and the truth is something that shows the darkness that still lives in Fontana, CA.