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December 06, 1968 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1968-12-06

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(A Reminiscence for December)

FROM THE ;NEWSPAPERS one learns that
the Glenville area in Cleveland is quiet
now. But the Glenville area is never quiet.
Superior, Euclid, Hough Avenues -- they
are the pulse of this. tired old lakefront city.
At night, especially, when a secure and casual
calm falls over downtown and the suburbs,
the streets in Glenville come alive, like ser-
pents waking.
Glenville is a place for groovin' down a
crowded avenue, as the Young Rascals would
say, where cats in, iridescent suits bop in and
out of Leo's Casino, where soul music floats
out the door.
And so. it was the night of Tuesday, July
23. I sat in a bleak United Press International
newsroom banging out news blurbs for radio
And then over the police radio: "A gun bat-
tle on the East Side." That was all, but it was
' enough to send me onto the freeway and into
the ghetto.
Crowds were already in the streets. But I
was an alien - being white, a curious creature,
almost some sort of freak, especially being
without a gun.
I made my way d o w n narrow streets of
tightly packed brick and wooden houses - not
too different from the suburbs, only all black.
There were little patches of struggling grass
in and between the yards, 4nd some of the
frame houses were freshly whitewashed. It was
a. subtle ghetto - not like Harlem or Roxbury
- but a place where ghettoness existed mainly
in people's minds and prejudices, and in the
fact that very few black could get out. Its
ghettoness existed in statistics as well - po-
lice crime statistics, insurance claim statistics,
demographic statistics.
The old rambling wooden shells lining the
# dark streets had once been the fashionable
homes of turn-of-the-century Cleveland. Then'
Poles, Jews, and Italians had moved in, and
slowly, as Negroes kept coming from the South
during the 30's and 40's, immigrants had got-
ten out, too.
S O THAT NIGHT a black man lay in the gut-
ter. It had come to this. All the decades of
struggling against policemen, the absentee
landlords, the storekeepers . . . th e decades
of moving in droves from the South . . . the
tension, the whites moving out of the o 1 d
neighborhoods . . . It was all to come to this
on the night of July 23 - a black man lay in
the gutter, and nobody quite yet gave a damn.
The damn was just beginning. '
He lay motionless in his blood, and I won-
dered if he were dead. The thought never be-
fore occurred to me. I had never before seen
a dead man.
My thoughts were broken by a volley of
gunfire down the street. I became part of a
moving crowd which ran for cover, each run-
ning only for himself. The gunshots sounded
from down the street, where cops were shoot-
ing it out, western-style, with a gang of mill-
tant black' nationalists.
They were more militant than ever that
night. A dying cop ~lay in the street below a
house where the snipers were entrenched. He
was yelling, "Help me, please, somebody help'
me!" /

Another cop ran -to his side, and a dark
figure in a second story window pumped a
round of machine gun shells into his back
and head. Two lay there now, and the gun
battle would leave eight more dead and several
injured before dawn, when the house w a s
burned down.
ThenJI only wanted to watch. I walked
down the street, away f r o m the shooting,
where crowds were gathering at a commercial
God, but they hated me. I jumped into a
police car, my only sanctuary, as a barrage of
bottles, stones, and bricks fired from a crowd
of about 200 youths. I crouched on the floor
of the car, and prayed it wouldn't explode in
the next minute with a firebomb.
DOWN THE STREET, white motorists were
being dragged from their cars and beaten.
Only a handful of policemen w e r e on the
scene; and as they hurried in one direction
drawing their pistols a n d brandishing the
butts of their rifles, something violent would
take place in the other direction.
Two cars were set on fire and a third, a
newscar, exploded as I was trying to read the
call letters painted on its side. A building burst
into flames. A bloody white boy was led up
the street after being rescued from a gang
which rolled his car over; one of his eyes was
missing. Store windows were smashed all
There is something about the shattering of
glass which makes it a perfect outlet for pent-
up frustrations. As a brick is hurled through a
storefront plate glass window, there is a fan-
tastic, crashing noise that reverberates up and
down a street. Then the glass is still, spilled
over the' sidewalk in millions of tiny, spark-
ling pieces that reflect a mosiac of neon lights.
It is a cymbal's crash accompanied by the wail
of a siren and the pitiful weeping of a young
white man . . . gunshots out of the street's
neon haze .: . the hoarse roar of a fire that
lights up the sky.
There is sweetness about it all. The shat-
tering of glass is like shattering the icy veneer
a white man huts on in front of a Negro. We
watched a gas main catch on fire and a sens-
ual blue billow of flame lept up and sent us
ducking for cover.
When Ahmed Evans and his gang of black
nationalists ran into that house on Lake-
view, just up the street from the corner of
Superior, someone heard them say, as they
began to fortress themselves for their own
little war against the Cleveland Police De-
partment,"We'll shoot !at anything white."
Evans and his gang of deadly militants:
Martyrs, perhaps, the vangard which died
faithful to whatever cause they held dear.
Word had been around that the cops had
been intimidating Evans and his crowd. This
was more than anything else, a violent and
terrible revenge, not the beginning of a rev-
In frustrating situations it is true that the
cops get out of hand. And they hassle people,
especially those people, like the black nation-
alists, who openly show their hatred of the
But then again the cop on the beat is just
a man. If he is white, he is afraid, like me,
and an alien in the black ghetto. He does the
white man's dirty work; his job is coping with
all the insanity and absurdity of modern
man that the ghetto is a monument to. It is
perhaps too much to expect the cop to con-
duct his own self in a sane manner all the
time, when all around him is insanity.
FOUR BLACK DAYS gutted the east side of
Cleveland that week. I spent most of those
hundreds of hours a haggard rider in press
cars, riding endlessly around and around, fol-
lowing police calls, talking, asking, asking,
always listening, watching for facial expres-
sions that revealed what a man was really
thinking . . . watching for those little things
that are really at the root of all the tear

gas and the smoke.
Midnight or later on one of those nights
when the burning and shooting had subsid-
ed, and the city was tense and harrowed. We
were inspecting a smoldering f i r e some-
where deep in the ghetto, and a little cop
came waddling up to us, his nightstick wag-
ging behind like a dog's tail.;
He was one of those friendly cops who
liked to talk more than anything else. I liked
him. He seemed very hurt that all this was
going on in his city. He said he lived on the
Eat ide_-

come to seeking the Promised Land. Dreams
passed from father to son were going up in
smoke all over his city.
Early the next morning, in the post-mid-
night darkness, whole blocks were in blazes.
In hell people are genuine. In hell, there
is nothing to be afraid of. The worst has al-
ready come. Death and suffering are just
another black body lying in a stove-in door-
WITH A PHOTOGRAPHER I toured the 105th
St. area. 105th St. runs perpendicular to
Superior Ave. in the black heart of the East
Side, and its intersection with the avenue
is a noisy, flashing, exciting corner where
gangs keep watch over the street in clusters
huddled in doorways, and strains of a half-
dozen soul juke-boxes keep bodies writhing.
All this on any night but July 23.
That night my photographer was black,
named Chandu. rHe knew the ghetto and its,
ways. Better, he knew the cops, and could slap
each one on the back with a hearty laugh.
They all liked him., Good nigger. But he was
hardened, too, like the cops - from the
streets and the grimey emotion of Glenville
and the Hough area.
One of several gun battles had just ended
when we came to the corner of 105th and
Superior. Firetrucks crawled against a sky
of flames, looking like red ants on a burning
log. I began to hurry, almost running toward
the scene, and Chandu grabbed my a r m.
"Buddie," he said, "in a riot you never run,
The gun battle had only stopped when the
brownstone building harboring the snipers
had exploded in fire. One black sniper, in
African dress had rushed screaming out onto
the street and was gunned down. The other
stayed in, as the building sucked and heaved
onto itself under the flames. He never came
THE STORM had subsided when daylight
came July 24. Scores of on-call cops sat
around in the police garage, talking about
wives, bowling, "those people," and the Na-
tional Guard.
Yes, the National Guard had been called in
early in the morning. They had set up a com-
mand post at a municipal garage in a grassy
park that was bordered on all sides by the
ghetto. I drove by the place and saw the stiff
guards, standing as if someone were, about to
raid the empty garage. Rows of jeeps and ar-
mored personnel carriers lined the expansive
lawn, and the eyes of excited, nervous sold-
iers followed every car as it went by.
They were country and small town boys,
most of them, from places like Ravenna and
Plainesville and North Canton. The ghetto
Negro was something they read about through
.wire service reports. in the newspapers.
They knew the quiet country niggers who
lived in corrugated iron shacks and plywood
houses on the bumpy old roads leading away
from town. Those blacks had never hurt any-
body . .. nobody had ever called out the Na-
tional Guard on the old nigger who scratched
his meager living from the Ohio clay.
And his kids, well, 'his kids were content
to just play in the rusted-out skeletons of
junk cars that lay in his yard, and they didn't
bother nobody neither.
The city nigger was somethin'else, wasn't
At the barricaded intersection which
swarmed with soldiers and jeeps a corporal
checked for press passes. He said, "Go on,
I've checked you many times before," but in-
stead I stopped to talk.
"Yep, them boonies are really gettin' riled,"
he answered. "They just need somebody to
show 'em who's boss, all right."I chuckled a
distant, forced chuckle and said I'd better be
gettin' on - got a job to do, y' know.
HE WAS the country boy standing, incon-
gruously, here in the middle of the city

slum with a combat rifle slung over his shoul-
der. It didn't matter. It could have been down
at the dry goods store in Ravenna, and that
shotgun hight have been for shootin' geese.
The city is not a good place to be if one
loves the dawn. In the city, dawn does not
break triumphant golden fusing sunlight with
everything. Instead, it creeps and steals among.
the concrete and steel, and day has come long
before you see the sun . . . as if it were afraid
to begin another day of inferno.
The policemen began to show little signs
of fatigue and frustration they had dragged
f-^s i r . - ~ " 4 S-.-C. .. tT ... .1,. a... J . . ..

porches when the colored garbage men came
by. Not for any reason, really, just that, well
you know all that's been happening down
there, down in Glenville and the East side.
Early that morning an extraordinary
man met long hours with generals and police-
men and black militants and Slavic politic-
ians. Early that afternoon Mayor Carl Stokes
announced his decision. It was a monumen-
tal decision; no other mayor of a riot-torn
city had ever made one like it, and it .was a
decision that was to stir a lasting and bitter
controversy in Cleveland, to alienate Stokes
from his own police department, the National
Guard, and white America ih general for some
That night the order gurbled out over po-
lice district teletype machines all over 'the
city: white persons, including white policemen
and National Guardsmen, were not to go in-
to the riot area, which would be cordoned off.
Only black policemen would be allowed in.
side the barricades.1
THE COPS at the 5th district were furious:
"He oughtta have his head examined!"
Stokes appeared on television and t h e
whites on the West Side, the poor white, and
the whites in the suburbs, were all incred-
ulous. Stokes had actually gotten up in front
of the cameras and announced that the po-
lice were not to police, that the whites were
not to fight against the black violence.
Stokes at other times had stood in front
of the lights and cameras in the ornate Tap-
estry Room at City Hall. He always arrived
from his inner office immaculately groomed,
white paper in hand, then stepped before the
rostrum as he greeted the reporters and cam-
eramen. And he always spoke very carefully.
So it was this time. In defiance against the
whites whom he had defeated for his office.
Calm, subtle defiance. The white man was
losing at his own game.
After the order the cops became belliger-
ent. Reporters were no longer free to roam at
will aboututhe police station. One was shov-
ed by a burly officer as he tried to get into
the door, and an angry envoy of newsmen
complained to Inspector Patrick Gerity, who
was in charge of the nth district headquarters.
Now Inspector Gerity is and was a rather
very special man. Although fif tyish with thin-'
ning gray hair, there is not that ai1~of stale,
Geritol-saturated denture - clenched middle-
agedness about him. Gerity has heavy brows
and the street-hardened face- of a real vet-
eran cop. Yet, soft-spoken, unassuming.
DURING THOSE tension-wrenched hours his
face was a picture of calm and reflection,
while those around him were losing their
heads. He fielded the anger of the haggard
reporters, and 'with that special trait of the
Irish politician, was able to slip through the
most inflammatory questions. He finally gave
the journalists their way - they could stay
at the police station.
Later he came out of hisoffice to talk with
whoever felt like talking to him.
You didn't have to ask Inspector Gerity
many questions. He wanted to talk, perhaps.
to ease the agony out of his system. He leaned
on the police desk and rambled on and on
about Cleveland-"My town"-about his own
men and about the people.
"I can't stand to see this happen," he spoke
to me softly, almost secretly. "I have an in-
vestment in this town - I've put 37 years in-
to it - 37 years on the force. Sometimes I
feel like those years are wasted."
A bit of the old fire stirred in him as he
raised his voice, "And people are telling me the
Negroes, who are the people of this town, are
rioting. Well, it just isn't so. Do you realize
what would happen if the people of Cleveland
really wanted to start a riot? If even five
thousand people decided they were going to
riot? We couldn't do a thing if that hap-

"The people out there throwing bombs and
burning and looting are just kids. A few kids,
and lunatics with rifles. You-can't tell me my
town is rioting," he fairly shouted.
' He spoke with almostdesperate conviction.
Iliked him, and felt sorry for him. He knew
a lot of his cops were bullies, but he wasnt
going to admit it to,,the press.
THEY LOOTED and burned more that night
in Glenville, but not nearly as much as the
night before; but this time the police weren't
there, and nobody was killed. The mayor had
agreed to let black neighborhood leaders try
to control the violence in their own way. A
Cavanagh, or even a Lindsay, would n e v e r
have had the courage.
And afterwards, the blacks called it a suc-
cess,. pointing to the lives that were saved;
and the whites said Stokes was a failure,
pointing to the stores that were leoted.
At the dawn hour of the third day I stole
past the barricades intoo the cordoned-off sec-
tion of Glenville, and saw the gutted store
windows and the black gangs still roaming the
A small group of black men stood with two
black policemen, looking at the ruins of art
appliance store. I approached a thin man who
wore an arm band proclaiming, "Mayor's Com'-
They all stopped talking and stared at me.
"Boy" said the man in the armband, "How
old are you?"
I told him and he answered back, "Well, I
thought so because you got to be young to be
so goddam foolish!" and he spat the words
at me.
"Lemme see your credentials. I thought no
white press was gonna be allowed in ,here,"
he said in a friendlier manner.
I stammered, "Well the mayor s a i d we
could come in at daylight." The mayor hadn't
really said any such thing. I showed the man
my credentials.
"Well, now, what can I- do for you," he
"First o all, tell me hqw long this looting
has been going on here," I demanded,,and
gestured toward the smashed windows, the }
rubble and ashes all around.
It was definitely not the right question to
ask at that moment. The thin man's brown
face blackened with rage. He stood twvo inches
from my- face and screamed, "Howl long has
the looting gone on? Why the hell don't you
ask how many lives were saved? Why don't
you ask what we've been doing all night here,
when we've been running up and down this
damned street imploring our brothers and sis-
ters to go home; when we've sweated all night
to stop the violence and the shodting and the
killing, and we've done it, man, we've done
He smiled a furious smile .and his eyes
blazed at me. "Now you white people come
i' here and ask about the looting! Well, man,
we don't want you around here so why don't
you just get into your car and go. I mean go!
Now leave us alone!"
I stared for a long time into his xface, star-
ing a don't-tell-me-where-to-go stare, but I
knew I had to go. The others shared his rage.
As I turned and walked back across the
street I, wanted to beg them to talk to me
as one of their own. I understood, I thought,
and I sympathized and I wanted to listen to
them. But there are always times when pride
triumphs over reason.
The white liberal is everyone's whipping
post, including his own. I wanted merely to
see - to, see everything and understand all the
agony and hatred of the black soul. I resented
their not letting me \into their tortured world.
I drove away quietly and shut off the soul
music when it came blaring over the radio
Only another dawn maybe.
The sun was creeping up now and spilling
in bits and pieces of rays over the tarred

! h ?
'0.rY.a. I 4i":v w.. .....

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