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OBITUARIES : Armando Torres Morales, 1932 - 2008

UCLA scholar, activist focused on Latino issues

March 26, 2008|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Armando Torres Morales, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, who researched issues of concern to the Latino community and used the findings to advocate for change, including increased mental health services and an end to abusive police practices, has died. He was 75.

Morales died of cancer March 12 at his home in Stevenson Ranch, said his son Rolando.

In his work as a psychiatric social worker, Morales was an early proponent of increased mental health care services in the Latino community. As the population of Latinos in Los Angeles County increased, the numbers using mental health services remained low. The low usage, particularly among undocumented immigrants who feared raids and deportation, did not bode well for the future, Morales warned.

"In coming years, I think we will really pay the price for treating people that way," he said in a 1977 Times article. "There will be illegal aliens who have ended up having psychiatric breakdowns and being hospitalized. The fear of deportation makes them fearful of using state hospital services."

Morales worked to create facilities that would help draw in those in need of services. From 1966 to 1969 he was director of Mental Health Consultation Services, East Los Angeles Branch of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. And in 1972, working as a consultant for the Veterans Administration, he set up a satellite service in East Los Angeles.

By 1977 Morales was director of what was then known as the Spanish-Speaking Psychosocial Clinic, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital. From 1979 to 2000 he was director of the clinical social work department and director of the Clinical Internship Training Program at the institute.

By 1970 police brutality had become a major concern in the Latino community. On Aug. 29 of that year, a large antiwar protest in East L.A. turned into a riot, and Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar, who was covering the events, was killed by a tear-gas projectile fired by a sheriff's deputy. Morales and Salazar were friends.

In the aftermath, organizers decided to confront the brutality issue, said Rosalio Munoz, who was then chairman of the National Chicano Moratorium Committee.

"We wanted to approach the issue as comprehensively as possible and with a view toward bringing about change," Munoz said. "We began working with Armando and working with others to start developing our point of view and how we were going to be presenting the issues."

Morales' expertise and research carried the weight of an academic, yet he stood with the community on the issue.

"He was meticulous with his research," Rolando Morales said. "People would confront him on the radio and on television shows. He had so much of his information documented they could not handle him. He was an activist-scholar."

Six years after the Watts riots, Morales' research indicated that police-community relations were at "the lowest point ever" in East Los Angeles. In 1973, Morales self-published "Ando Sangrando: I Am Bleeding," which examined conflict between Mexican Americans and the police. That same year, former Mayor Tom Bradley appointed Morales to the Civil Service Commission, but the Los Angeles City Council rejected him because he lived in South San San Gabriel.

Morales, who was a member of the county Human Relations Commission, advocated gathering statistics on the ethnic and racial composition of shooting victims and police officers. He argued that the statistics could influence police training.

"Studies have show that minority group members are the victims of police shootings far beyond their proportion of the total population or their proportion of total arrests," Morales said in a 1977 Times article.

Born in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 1932, Morales graduated from Roosevelt High School and later served three years in the Air Force. After his discharge, Morales earned undergraduate degrees at East Los Angeles College and what is now Cal State L.A. He earned a master's degree in social work in 1963, and a doctorate eight years later, both from USC.

In 1977 Morales co-wrote a textbook, "Social Work: A Profession of Many Faces," now in its 11th edition. Over the years he was often called as an expert court witness, including on the issue of riot mentality in the 1993 Reginald Denny beating trial, and was a consultant to parole officers.

Morales also played a role in a key legal case in Los Angeles known as Serrano vs. Priest that challenged the fairness of public school financing. Morales was a friend of Serrano and was on the board of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which ultimately argued the case on behalf of Serrano's son and won. The ruling prompted the state to provide more money for poorer school districts.

Morales' work influenced many, said Felix Gutierrez, professor of journalism and communication at USC.

"His use of the university title as a base, his ability to gather and present documented case studies and his soft-spoken yet hard-hitting manner of presentation was an inspiration to many of us in the 1960s and early '70s who were looking for ways to use our education to raise and address issues affecting" the Latino community, Gutierrez said.

In addition to Rolando, of Oakland, Morales is survived by his wife, Cynthia Torres Morales, and their daughter, Christina Mia Torres Morales, of Stevenson Ranch; and another son, Gary , and grandsons Vincent and Rocco Morales, all of Northville, Mich.

The funeral will be today at 9:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. Memorial donations may be made to Homeboy Industries, 130 W. Bruno St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.


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