|THE NATIONAL GUARD ARRIVES|
FERGUSON, MISSOURI 2014?
LAWRENCE, KANSAS 1970.
SAME OLD SAME OLD!
Today is Theoretical Monday at Scission. I can't say that I feel much like being theoretical. On the other side of the state from me is Ferguson....about 250 miles to my east. Here I sit, a 65 year old white guy, with decades of "experience" under my belt not really sure what the hell to do...It reminds me of another time when I didn't know what to do. Last night as I watched along with the world a police state in action I wrote,
Tonight has flashed me back to April of 1968. I was at KU and living in Lawrence, Kansas, forty miles west of KC at the time. Following the death of MLK, police in KC fired tear gas and the like at a march of peaceful hight school students, and into a church where they had retreated. By nightfall, the uprising had begun. I rushed into KC that night, but as a 18 year old white person, still a rookie to the movement (which I had been relating to for a while) I had no idea what to do when I got there. Felt lost, listening to reports of gun battles on the streets of KC. I grew up about that time...and here I am tonight 250 miles from Ferguson...
During the past week a couple of other events from my own personal past have come to mind...events which while personal to me, are as "American as apple pie."
In April of 1970 racial tensions which long existed in the Kansas college town of Lawrence simmered over, as they say.
A few years back, I received a phone call from a young KU student who was trying to write a story about what happened decades before in a Lawrence that seemed so strange to her. I actually talked to her, unusual for me as my policy is to never talk to the press. However, she seemed genuine. She seemed to really want to know what happenedthen, how, and why. She later wrote in an article in the University Daily Kansan:
Racial tensions added to the already explosive Lawrence atmosphere. Two days after the (student) strike, John Spearman of the Black Student Union encouraged all black students to arm themselves, saying they weren't safe and were receiving threats on their lives.
Racial conflict sparked at Lawrence High School (LHS) that spring when its Black Student Union demanded a black homecoming queen and black cheerleaders in addition to the current ones. When the principal didn't meet demands, students locked themselves into the school's main office. Then fighting broke out over the next few days. One day 28 people were injured. Another day police threatened to use tear gas to disperse more than 100 students, some armed with tire irons, trying to enter the school.
As the situation escalated, the students demanded that the school hire black teachers and a black counselor as well as meet their previous demands. Police used tear gas later when black students and residents broke windows at the high school.
I was there. I remember rushing over to LHS in solidarity with the black students there. The cops, we called pigs, looked like pigs. I honestly do not remember any broken windows, though I wouldn't be surprised if there were. I do remember the cops and I most definitely remember the tear gas.
KU History reports on the same events this way:
In the days preceding the Union fire (Note: on April 20 a multi million dollar fire gutted the building), several incidents occurred which contributed to local tensions. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, for example, on April 10, John Spearman, chairman of the Black Student Union, urged all KU African-American students to arm themselves. Citing “attempted and threatened” violence aimed at BSU members, Spearman claimed his organization was taking simply responsibility for “protecting Blacks on campus.” Then, on Saturday, April 11, the Kappa Sigma Fraternity house was set on fire and sustained over $200,000 worth of damage. Four days later, Gambles Furniture Store in downtown Lawrence was also firebombed and destroyed as the flames burned out of control for nearly two hours.
And on the evening of April 20, just several hours before the Union building firebombing, a crowd of approximately 200 African Americans stormed out of a school board meeting when their demands for an expanded Black Studies curriculum and more representation in student activities were tabled. Within 10 minutes, at approximately 9:13 pm, the first calls into the Lawrence Police and Fire Departments reported acts of vandalism and fires at Lawrence High School. Reports cited evidence of Molotov Cocktails and gunshots. Several windows were broken and some fire damage was discovered. Responding fire fighters reported hearing gunshots while they worked to put out the fires at the high school.
I might add, that KU History does not report on the long history of white supremacy, of racial discrimination, of police harassment of blacks, of segregation, and of the equaly long history of resistance to all of this which was also a part of the history of Lawrence. None of this just fell from the sky one day in April of 1970.
Anyway, in the course of the next few days, there were fires downtown and on the KU campus, there were gunshots and resistance in the Black community. In my own neighborhood, predominately white, long haired, radicals, students, non students (as they were called) erupted in support of the folks across town. A curfew was declared, the police arrived and we met them in the streets with rocks, bottles, whatever. The cops were overwhelmed. The National Guard was called in, there were more fires, more snipers, bombs, lots of arrests (I got arrested twice in two days). Others forms of material support, including the movement of arms from white radicals to blacks occurred as well. ...Amazingly no one died over the course of that week.
|THE FUNERAL OF RICK DOWDELL|
Lawrence cops spotted a young black man leaving Afro House on Lawrence's east side. They took chase for some reason. Moments later 19 year old Rick "Tiger" Dowdell, a member of the Black Student Union and one son of a well known and respected local black family was dead. He'd been shot in the back of the head by a police officer.
The official story sounded like this:
Rick Dowdell, 19, of 918 W. 24th, was killed, according to policemen, when he fired at a patrolman while fleeing down the alley between New Hampshire and Rhode Island south of Ninth Street.
That was a lie and everyone knew it.
KU History puts what happened next like this:
The next day, about 60 black citizens presented a petition with 75 signatures to City Manager Buford Watson demanding the suspension of Garrett (Note: the cop who shot Dowdell) and a “thorough and objective investigation” into the death of Rick Dowdell. That night, in the vicinity of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania streets along 10th Street, Lawrence police responded to a report of “four to five Negroes” shooting out streetlights and sniping at passing motorists.
But when the police arrived, they found themselves in a pitched gun battle with 45 armed African-Americans near the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania. Officer Eugene Williams, 48, was shot in the chest with buckshot and hospitalized.
Violence also erupted at the “Hippie Haven” neighborhood near 12th and Oread. Trash fires burned in the streets, and firebombs were tossed into a building known as the “White House” at 1225 Oread. Police accompanied firemen into the neighborhood and were pelted with rocks and bricks. About 75 youths marched to KU Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers’ residence. When no one came to the door, someone threw an object through a window...
Over the next few days, again there were bombings, fires, snipers, rocks and bottles. On July 20, the cops showed up once again in our neighborhood and were greeted by a large crowd which didn't disperse as demanded. Nick Rice was killed only a few feet from me shortly thereafter when the police opened fire on an unarmed crowd. Ironically, Rice, a white youth, was also shot in the back of the head, not so ironically by Lawrence police. Through the tear gas Rice and another man, a black man by the name of Mert Olds, who was wounded, were carted into a local tavern by "bystanders."
|THE SPOT WHERE NICK RICE WAS KILLED BY COPS|
WHO OPENED FIRE ON A CROWD OF MOSTLY WHITE YOUTH
PROTESTING THE POLICE MURDER OF RICK DOWDELL
A FEW DAYS EARLIER
Again the official story will sound familiar. From the Lawrence Journal World:
In a statement issued to the press in the pre-dawn hours, (County Attorney) Young said:
"It is not known at this time who fired the shots which struck Olds and Rice. Several tear gas cannisters were used in the area to disperse the crowd that was assaulting police officers with rocks, bottles and other missiles.
"Tear gas was used both before and after the shooting occurred. It is known that police fired several shots. It is not known whether any of these are the ones which struck Rice and Olds.
"Investigation is continuing to determine the source of the shots which struck Rice and Olds. Interviews have been conducted with approximately 10 witnesses and interviewing of witnesses will continue in the morning.
Police Chief Richard Stanwix said today that officers were assaulted with rocks and bottles before they opened fire but Miss Lair disputed this statement. Watson said a policeman is justified in shooting "when he sees a felonious action about to be committed or when protecting persons or property.
Other witnesses said they heard police telling such things as, "If you don't run I'm going to shoot you," and "Kill the —— ——."
Earlier in the day, Young had announced that tentative plans had been made to hold the coroner's inquest into the slaying of Dowdell at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The slaying of Dowdell prompted City Manager Buford Watson and Police Chief Richard Stanwix to relieve Patrolman William Garrett from active duty.
THE COP WHO SHOT RICK DOWDELL
Garrett, who apparently fired the shot which killed Dowdell, remains a member of the force at pull pay pending the outcome of the inquest.
County Coroner Dr. James Reed said today the inquest will proceed as scheduled.
Reed performed an autopsy on Rice's body and said the wounds of Rice and Dowdell were only inches apart in location.
Reed said the cause of death in Rice's case was laceration to the brain stem. He said the bullet entered the back of the neck just below the base of the skull.
Reed said his investigation into which type of bullet which made the wound is not yet complete. But he said the bullet would have to have "a fair amount of energy to go all the way through."
Same old same old.
No police were ever charged with anything in any of this.
I bring this up not to wax nostalgic, but to point out how old the story of Ferguson really is. White cop shoots young black man, film at ten. Of course, the story didn't start in Lawrence or anywhere else in the 60s...it started long before when Africans were kidnapped by white men, taken to America, and sold into slavery. It is a story also of resistance. It is a story that has not ended. It is a story that I am sick and tired of living and writing about. It is a story that if I, a white man, is sick and tired of, I cannot even presume to imagine what African Americans are feeling about it today, yesterday, and beyond.
Note: I do want to say that I was proud of the solidarity shown by many white youths in our neighborhood, and amongst the radical community with Lawrence's black community in April and June of 1970. For a brief moment in history a group of whites shed their white skin privilege and became race traitors. I am also sad to say that following the killing of Nick Rice most of those same white folks faded away into the more safe climes of whiteness, as it were.
The following is from We Are Respectable Negroes. I included all the comments up to now.
This piece was written by Chauncey Devega.