In Celebration of
MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
Jan. 17, 2005
MARTIN LUTHER KING
He came to a troubled city
in a summer of discontent
By ANDY MURCIA
I was a young, rookie police officer during the long hot summer of 1966 in Chicago, Illinois. I was a member of the police department's Task Force Unit. We were a well-trained group of officers who were sort of the Marines of the police department. We were sent in first to quell any serious criminal activity or civil unrest anywhere within the city limits of Chicago.
At the beginning of the summer, the city was expecting a confrontation between Dr. Martin Luther King's more militant supporters and residents of the seething South Side and West Side high-crime areas. The Rev. Dr. King was coming in to demand employment, housing and educational equality for African-Americans.
At one point my fellow police officers and I were assigned to guard Chicago's Archbishop John P. Cody as he attended Dr. King's peaceful rally at Soldiers Field. I was standing very close to Dr. King and I noticed he looked worried.
What could be going through his mind? Of the thousands of people there, many were committed to the peaceful approach he advocated. But he knew there would be those who would not be above using this historic gathering for their own agendas. The possibility was sobering and the tension could be felt like a knife cutting through the muggy summer heat.
Dr. King was very quiet until it was time for him to deliver his speech. Then, for a brief moment, he turned in my direction and our eyes settled on each other.
Neither of us spoke, but I feel, even to this day, that there was a feeling of resignation in the deep breath he took before going up to the podium.
"O.K., kid," he seemed to say, "this is bigger than all of us."
He turned to the sea of people and began to speak with that immortal, instantly identifiable voice we've since come to associate with a cry for equality. Dr. King berated Chicago as a "racist" city and while he spoke of peace, some of the other speakers that day spoke of violence.
Two days later, the West Side of the City ignited in rioting after two youths were arrested for turning on a fire hydrant. The people attacked the firemen who were sent to shut off the hydrant. The firemen called for police help and I was one of those who responded. The unruly mob attacked us with bricks thrown from the rooftops, turned our police cars over, then set them on fire. Other people in hiding were firing guns into the fire and at us. Bullets were flying everywhere. Over the next few days, two people were killed, many were injured and hundreds were arrested as crowds looted shops, despite Rev. King's pleas to stop.
Dr. King and his nonviolent civil rights activists were asked not to march in white neighborhoods until the city residents' "nerves" had calmed down. He refused to accept that request.
The tension really increased when other, less honorable and violent activists joined Rev. King's march in the Marquette Park area of the City. Marquette Park was located then in a quiet, but all white neighborhood. The residents were mainly of Polish, German, Lithuanian, and Irish decent. Many were newly arrived in America and spoke little English. They were a hard working group of people who mostly earned their wages by cleaning office buildings downtown. They saved their money and bought small homes in the Marquette Park area.
Just prior to Rev. King's march there, my unit had been sent into Marquette Park because George Lincoln Rockwell, who was then the leader of the American Nazi Party, was making a speech there without a permit. His speech was highly inflammatory as he spoke about various conspiracies and that the people would eventually lose the value of their homes to "Jewish real estate agents" who would "panic peddle" their neighborhoods. He fired up the residents, as he was known to do. He told them not to let Rev. King march in their neighborhood. So when King and his nonviolent supporters marched in, the worried residents milled about. Surprisingly, they stayed fairly calm. A footnote to the Nazi segment is that I had the pleasure of yanking Rockwell off the platform in the park that day and handing him over to the detectives.
During King's march I also saw the familiar red colors of the gang members from Chicago's "Black P Stone Nation Gang." They were a bunch of thugs led by a criminal named Jeff Fort. They had joined the King march in hope of widening their appeal. These gang members were violent and while Dr. King could not see their every action, I saw them hurling stones at the white people who lined the sidewalk and park grass areas.
The white residents retaliated by throwing these objects back at the gang members. At times two objects hit in mid-air and flew off in unintended directions. In this melee, Dr. King was struck by a rock in his face. I felt sorry for him when I saw he was bleeding. There were thousands of people present and it was nearly impossible to locate the ones who threw objects. We had no way of telling if rock that struck Rev. King was thrown by a white or black person.
Finally, the City went to court and obtained an injunction stopping the King marches. At the same time, city officials met with Dr. King in an effort to find a more peaceful way.
That meeting produced good things such as setting some goals to end segregated housing patterns and the establishment of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities.
Changes that Dr. King wanted would soon come. The crucial steps toward those changes were taken by this man with a dream. We heard him tell us of that dream, but he was silenced by an assassin's bullet before he lived to see the dream come true.
On this day America now devotes to celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, my thoughts often flow back to the day we looked each other in the eye at that Chicago rally. Did he know his fate already? Did he sigh so heavily because he knew the day was coming? Did he make a choice to keep going because "it was bigger than all of us?"
They say that freedom and peace come with a price. He paid the highest price for his dream for all of God's children.
While racism still exists, I believe it's not nearly as bad as it once was. I have always felt that even one injustice is one too many. Thank God we have the law for all of us to seek justice through. I think our best hope of eradicating racism is though education. It's been years since Rev. King gave his life in the battle to end racism...yet it is still with us.
If we didn't have to spend money fighting wars, I believe we could spend all those billions of dollars making sure every kid in America received a good education regardless of his skin color. I think that's the way to end racism.
Each time we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, I think back to that very hot summer day when our eyes met for that brief moment in time. I wish I could have told him that his sacrifice would, in time, allow all of us, white and black, to experience his dream of peace forevermore between the races in America.
©2005 by Andy Murcia. The caricature of Andy Murcia is ©2003 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted on Jan. 17, 2005.
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