Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
|When I was 20 years old, in 1968, I witnessed a teenage boy beaten with billy-clubs by 4 police officers during a peace rally in Grant Park, Chicago. This is not the sort of thing one easily forgets, so, I’ve thought about it often over the years. At the time, it made national news and the controversy about it was: “He deserved it. He shouldn’t have been messing with the American flag” as opposed to “those pigs!” referring to the Chicago Police. The way I remember it, the young man had lowered the flag to half-mast and had just tied it in place when the officers jumped him. I was not 10 feet away. I felt pretty helpless because I chose not to step in and get beaten myself. Then, I was in awe of the stupidity of the choice the police had made to do that in front of hundreds of people who were already not happy with them. The crowd behaved as I expected. They moved in and started throwing anything loose at the police. Alan Ginsburg was on stage and he worked hard at getting the crowd to settle down. As I recall he did, by getting everyone to say “ommmm.” Some of the details are a little bit fuzzy now, but the experience remains important.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were already assassinated, the Viet Nam War raged on, and the peace movement had blossomed leading to demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention. The night of the incident of the beating, there was a riot, soon called by many in the press “a police riot” because so many of their aggressive acts were unprovoked, or over-reaction to mild provocation.
Over time, after that, there were many demonstrations and I participated whenever I could. Sometimes police would be wearing riot gear. In 1967, police with machine guns lined the tops of buildings in Washington, D.C. There were many confrontations between demonstrators and police and eventually, police killed demonstrators at Jackson State University in Mississippi, and a couple of weeks later, 4 students were shot at Kent State. We in the peace movement mourned with every death. We questioned about the police and their role. We were angered because the Jackson State shootings got much less attention in the press than Kent State and assumed it was because the Kent State Victims were white and the Jackson State victims were black. None of these events slowed my resistance to the war, and, probably, actually increased general intensity of opposition.
Today, we have even more police violence than then, and it is, again, very racist, but not entirely so. We have war that goes on and on and on that we watch on TV, just like Viet Nam. The reporting is not as graphic as then, but the basics are so similar. I don’t feel good that I am not marching, but I’m a lot older, and further from the center of activity, and I feel defeated. I feel like government is much less responsive now than it was then, and I can’t say it was nearly as responsive then as we wanted. My younger self says a lot of unpleasant things about the entire situation, and longs to take meaningful action. My mature self says “you have obligations.” I feel like I’m making excuses. The thing I know that lies behind my lack of action; I don’t want to get shot. Even though these problems with the police are serious, I am much more fearful of the self-righteous, gun toting “patriots” who don’t understand the meaning of freedom of speech. The thing is, the terrorists are winning. The terrorists who carry swastikas, or “confederate flags,” and have been given permission to carry arms openly and frighten everyone who can see. The Congress and State Legislators have given them permission to terrorize their neighbors, little children in Wal Mart, people in churches and at funerals. I don’t understand this. It makes me very sad.