On the Role of the Police
1. Westchester Committee for a Fair Inquiry Into the Peekskill Violence
On Wednesday night, August 24, eleven residents of the Peekskill area, realizing that an atmosphere of violence was developing, sent the following telegram to N. Y. State Attorney General Nathaniel Goldstein, to Westchester County Executive Herbert Gerlach, and to County District Attorney George Fanelli:
"Inflammatory statements directed against the concert have appeared in the Peekskill (N.Y.) Evening Star of Tuesday, August 23.
"The editorial of that issue states: 'The time for tolerant silence is running out.' A letter to the editor appearing in the same issue, signed by Vincent Boyle, states: 'I am not intimating violence, but...
"In our view these statements lead to the inspiring of illegal action and violence against a peacefully conducted concert.
"We urge you to conduct an immediate investigation of these statements as well as the intentions of their authors.
"We also respectfully urge you to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the concert, the artists, the sponsors and guests are fully protected in the peaceful enjoyment of their civil liberties."
This telegram was received by the officials it was addressed to and was acknowledged. County Executive Herbert Gerlach replied by wire that he had referred his telegram to the District Attorney's office "and have every confidence that the matter will receive all necessary and proper attention from our law-enforcement dept."
The District Attorney's office stated that the matter would be referred to local authorities.
The Hawthorne barracks of the State Police (according to the Peekskill Star, Aug. 26) "said that no unusual circumstances were expected but that troopers would be on hand if needed."
2. Westchester Committee for a Fair Inquiry Into the Peekskill Violence
(Concerning the First Concert)
On at least three separate occasions, from 7:30 until the police arrived at 10 p.m., men from the group defending the road and bandstand made their way out of the ambush to telephone the local police, the state police, the State Attorney General's office and Governor Dewey-all without result.
The three sheriffs and three FBI men, who had been on the scene from the beginning, made no arrests and held no one for questioning, though fourteen cars were overturned and at least thirteen people were hurt seriously enough to require medical attention.
3. Testimony of Leon Straus
"We asked Gaffney and Fanelli to provide an escort for Paul Robeson into the grounds. They refused to provide it.
"At about 11:00 o'clock several hundred policemen marched into the grove and were stationed throughout the area, some of them within the inner line of the concert guards.
"Then, at about 1:00 o'clock Gaffney came to see me in the grove, and demanded that I withdraw all our guards from the entire perimeter and move them inward a quarter of a mile or so. This I refused to do because it would have left that whole area undefended.
"Gaffney threatened me that he would withdraw all his police and leave us without any police protection if I didn't comply with his demand. He then partially carried out his threat by removing all the several hundred policemen from the grove they marched out in a body which made it clear to us that there was collusion between the police and the mob.
"When the concert ended, the mob was blocking the exit completely.
"We then spoke to the police, demanding that the exit be opened. The police asked for time to clear the exit. It took about three-quarters of an hour for these 900 policemen to move the mob of about 1000 and create a little opening through which a car could pass. We are convinced that during this time the mob was given instructions to spread out along the road for several miles, specifically in places where the state troopers were supposed to guard the road.
"Finally, when all the cars had left, and more than half of our guards had left, about a thousand of the guards remained. These were organized into a body, and started marching out of the grounds, with the intention of finding transport by bus or train.
"The police then charged into the grove with their clubs out, and many with their guns out, encircled our guards, and beat up with their clubs several of them. They arrested about twenty-five of us at the head of the column, and marched us into the police compound with our hands over our heads, as prisoners.
"We were then searched for weapons of any sort, which we did not
have, and were held under arrest for several hours, while the remaining men in the grove about a thousand were similarly searched there. "By 1:30 a.m. everyone had left the area."
4. American Civil Liberties Union on the First Concert
Observers of the first riot, including all newspapermen present, agree that no more than six police officers were on the scene until after 10 p.m. Because of this, the organizers of the concert have accused the state and county authorities of willful failure to provide police protection for an assembly known to he threatened with mob violence. It is of paramount importance to decide whether that accusation be true.
The New York News of August 29 reported:
"The state troopers denied charges that they had not arrived in time to head off the three hour riot in which cars were overturned, women frightened into the woods, and veterans and Robeson fans alike beaten with clubs, stones and fence-posts....
"In the first place, Sergeant Johnson (the first sergeant of Troop K at Hawthorne) pointed out the vets had a legal right to parade and had obtained a permit. Besides, he said, no one had officially requested that troopers be on hand before the trouble started.
"'There was no need to be there in advance,' he asserted. 'We don't play into the hands of the Commies. We went in when we found that a crime had been committed."'
The investigators are satisfied that Sergeant Johnson is telling the truth when he says that no one had officially requested that troopers be on hand. They are equally satisfied that this is intended to convey the impression that no request had been made for police protection.
Plea for Police Protection
The facts are:
At least three separate requests for police protection were made by the sponsors of the Robeson concert. On August 25, a telegram under the signature of Mrs. Pauline Brody of Crompond, New York, and others, was dispatched to Herbert C. Gerlach, County Executive, pleading for police protection in view of the threats of violence widely circulating in the Peekskill area. An appeal for protection was sent to N. Y. State Attorney Genera! Nathaniel Goldstein. Westchester County District Attorney George Fanelli was also asked to guarantee protection.
In reply to Mrs. Brody's telegram, Mr. Gerlach answered by telegram on August 26:
"The right of free speech and free assemblage is not limited to any particular group or person. The rights of others, of course, must be protected. I have referred your telegram to the District Attorney's office and have every confidence that the matter will receive all necessary and proper attention from our law enforcement departments. I am advised that an identical telegram had already been received in the office of the District Attorney."
The competent law enforcement agencies in the area, and the supreme law enforcement agencies of the state, were appealed to. Yet no police protection was accorded the concert-goers.
That violence was generally expected, and that the withholding of adequate police protection therefore bordered on the criminally negligent, was shown in the Peekskill Star's account on August 27, which stated that more than 7000 persons including 5000 marching veterans and 2000 concert-goers were expected at the concert. Significantly, the Peekskill Star reported on August 29:
"Frank Niedhart, manager of the Niedhart Fife and Drum Corps, today said that his organization did not participate in Saturday night's anti-Robeson parade because many of the members are minors. He said he did not want to bear the responsibility of possible injury to the youngsters if trouble should develop."
On August 30, the Evening Star reported that District Attorney George M. Fanelli had opened an investigation of the riot and had stated:
"The facts that I now have would indicate that the demonstration by the veterans' associations was peaceful and orderly, and that after they disbanded the pro-Robesonites provoked the violence when Secor was stabbed by one of their number."
In light of all newspaper and eye-witness reports to the contrary, and of the assertion of Mr. Flynt that the veterans he led had planned to prevent the concert, Mr. Fanelli's accusation is patently false.
Thereafter, two parallel moods prevailed in the area. The first was defensive. Denying responsibility, it attempted to thrust it on the victims. The second mood was of jubilation. Peekskill was sufficiently proud of what it had done for many automobile drivers to stick placards on their windshields reading, "WAKE UP, AMERICA, PEEKSKILL DID!"
5. American Civil Liberties Union On the Second Concert
The official investigators for the American Civil Liberties Union have formed their own independent opinions as to the action of the police.
In one sentence, it is that the Westchester County police permitted the assault upon the Robeson supporters.
This accusation is not made lightly. It is made after careful appraisal of the evidence of people of mature judgment who are non-Communists, and after consultation with responsible representatives of the Westchester and New York City press, discussion with housewives whose homes overlook the scene of action, conversations with participants in the rioting and victims of the assault, and with men who paraded in the "protest demonstration."
There can be no excuse of police inability to control a mob. The plain facts, as reported in the Peekskill Star, are that after the rioting was over:
"Late Sunday night, nearly a thousand guards were still on the grounds under police protection, awaiting transportation to the city. ... State Police had trouble with the guards when they made a search of automobiles at the scene. Fighting between the pro-Reds and troopers broke out several times. Nightsticks, wielded by the gray-uniformed troopers, quelled the disturbances quickly."
The investigators are unable to conclude whether this incident was to any extent provoked by the "guards" or simply represented a last-minute assault by police who had for hours already manifested their deep hostility. In any event, it demonstrates that there is no reason to suppose that by wielding their nightsticks the police could not long before have broken up the disorderly, undisciplined mob which they had allowed to roam unchecked for hours.
If nightsticks alone were not enough, other weapons were at the disposal of the police, including tear gas shells. Yet, despite the appalling violence and the hours-long criminality of those who committed this unprovoked assault, not a single tear gas shell was set off.
From the most reliable reports it appears that the State Troopers, 200 in number out of a total of 950 police officers, performed their duty well by contrast with the County officers. While the concert was in progress, fighting broke out between the mob and late arrivals to the concert. Whenever such incidents occurred, the State Troopers swept into action, quelled the fighting, separated the combatants and, on some occasions, arrested rioters.
Three New York newspapermen, interviewed individually by ACLU representatives, two newspaper editors from different Westchester County newspapers, and two radio network news reporters, all present at the scene of action, report separately that the Westchester County police fraternized with the crowd throughout the concert despite the rising and visible mood of violence. They also assert that when the concert ended and the stoning started the Westchester police and the crowd continued their fraternization.
The investigators are led to conclude that the vast preparations by the Westchester police to prevent the outbreak of violence were a sham and that the public, the Federal authorities and the Governor of the State of New York were hoodwinked into believing that the Westchester police would restrain violence.
In regard to the stoning which occurred in Red Mill Road, Mr. Fanelli said: "The police at once converged upon the scene, moved the crowd back...."
It will be noted that Mr. Fanelli, by implication, concedes that no attempt was made to disperse the crowd. The explanation for this lies in the insistence of the Westchester officials that the crowd, like the concert-goers, was exercising its constitutional right to assemble.
But the officially permitted demonstration was at an end at 2:50 p.m., 70 minutes before the concert-goers began to leave, according to Mr. Fanelli's own statement. Why, then, was the crowd permitted to remain after the veterans' parade was over? What constitutional right was the crowd exercising when it continued to loiter for over an hour after its officially permitted function had come to an end?
The fact is that had Mr. Fanelli dispersed the crowd from the vicinity of the concert area after the veterans' parade was over, and after it had expressed its opposition to Robeson and Communism, there then would have been no need to concentrate 1,000 police in this immediate area. The whole county might then have been policed adequately. Rioting and stoning might not then have occurred and, if it had, would probably have been minor in proportions.
6. Eyewitnesses : Quoted by Westchester Committee
A. Dorothy S., Bronx: "The driver of the car overheard one Westchester cop tell another that 'they ought to dive-bomb the sons of bitches.' This was said in regard to the airplanes which were flying around the area."
B. Rose C., Brooklyn: "Another rock smashed through the front and hit the wife of the driver, seated on the front seat. Glass cut her right arm, blood was streaming, and she became quite hysterical. The driver, upset by his wife's condition and the condition of the car as well, stopped the car and told the state trooper he would go no further unless he was given protection. The state trooper said, 'You god damn bastard, run ahead or I'll club you.'"
C. Stephen W., N. Y. City: "I saw a state trooper throw a rock the size of an orange at the back of our bus."
D. Sylvie F., Forest Hills, N. Y.: "Another stone crashed through the same window. We stopped the car. The thrower was five feet from a Westchester County policeman whose badge number was 42. He saw the incident. We asked him to arrest the man. The policeman did not answer, and when the request was repeated he ordered the driver to move on."
E. Tom Lloyd, member of the executive board of Local 64, International Fur and Leather Workers Union, and veteran of World War II: "As I drove out onto the paved highway, a state trooper slowed up the speed of our car by hand motions.
"The car in front of ours swerved almost out of control when hit by rocks, and I was forced to almost stop. Then a shower of rocks and pop bottles hit our car and one broke the windshield, showering glass over the three of us in the front seat and inflicting cuts on the man sitting next to me. I put the car into second gear and drove on, the car ahead of me meanwhile having been gotten under control.
"There were state troopers and uniformed police in great numbers all along the road, but they did absolutely nothing to prevent the violence. In fact, I heard them laughing and jeering at us as we passed them with our battered cars."
F. Henry F., of Brooklyn, arrived with some other World War II veterans to help prepare for the concert. "The paraders were shouting all kinds of profane language. One shouted, 'We'll give you solidarity, we'll make you eat it!' Then, with a grin on his face, 'Dewey is going to protect you, oh yeah!'"
After the concert, he and other concert guards started to ride toward the entrance. "Suddenly, as if from out of nowhere a bunch of troopers swooped down on our cars and yelled, 'Get out of the cars!' Before we could comply, however, they were pulling us out to the side of the road. I saw the driver in the car in front of our car get hit in the kidneys by a cop for protesting the rough treatment. The troopers threw out everything in the car that wasn't fastened down, from the glove compartment and from the trunk. They ordered us back into the cars.
"A moment later another bunch of about fifteen deputies and police ordered us out of the cars again, this time roughing us up worse than the troopers. Some of them evidently had had something to drink. Their faces were red and they were wild, and swinging indiscriminately at everyone with their clubs.
"They ordered us into the cars once more. A moment later another group of deputies and police ordered us out of the car. This time I remarked to my companions, 'Here we go, out again and in again.' One cop overheard me and yelled, 'Hey, this son of a bitch is talking back!' Whereupon a group of cops and deputies set upon me and the car occupants in the most violent and vicious manner that I have ever experienced. One grabbed me by the collar and throat at the same time and threw me to the ground, face down in the dirt, a distance of about eight feet from the car, and started beating us all. My shirt and suit were badly torn. Another cop dragged me to my feet and said, 'Get in and get going, you red bastard!' Another, who was obviously a captain of police, said, 'Go back to Jew town, and if we ever catch you up here again we'll kill you!"'
G. John N., New Jersey: "One of the troopers said, 'Let's get these bastards.' One of them stopped at the front right window where I sat. He took careful aim and shoved his nightstick, point first, at my left eye. I ducked my head when I saw it coming. The club missed the eyeball and caught the corner of the lid. It began to bleed, and when I brought my head up, he aimed at the eye again. I fended the club off with my arm.
"The police ordered us out of the car. Then, as we got out, they began to club us over the head.
"I was forced to run through a gauntlet of 15 to 20 policemen. Each of them clubbed me across the head or back. I tried to escape. They threw me to the ground and continued the beating. One of the policemen noticed a bandage on my left hand, which had been burned a week before. He jumped on the hand and ground his heel into the bandage, fracturing one of the burned fingers."
H. Sarah M., Bronx: "I saw several injured people ask the troopers and policemen for help. They were not only refused help, but were laughed at, called such names as 'Dirty Jew,' 'Dirty n,' and some of those injured were hit with the billies of the policemen. I also saw some troopers and policemen throw rocks at the cars and buses."
I. William G., Queens: "As we were riding by, several of the state troopers cursed at us with epithets like 'Get out of here, you dirty so-and-so's.' 'You got what was coming to you, you dirty n lovers.' I saw the state troopers joking and talking to the very hoodlums who were endangering our lives."
J. Marvin L., Flushing, L. I.: "During all of this, the cops used al! kinds of vile epithets, i.e., 'Spread their legs and hit them in the groin.' This last was to the cops who were beating the men in the car ahead."
7. James Hicks: Afro-American
"I saw Jean Bullard knocked down at my feet and brutally kicked and beaten by state troopers as he lay on the ground because he spat at an anti-Robeson veteran who had spit in his face.
"I saw a colored man who was in his car and on his way home dragged from his car, hit over the head while he was being dragged out, beaten on the ground by the troopers as he attempted to crawl under his car for protection. He was then dragged from underneath the car and beaten with clubs by four troopers as he crawled helplessly down the narrow road leading to the concert area."