The Boston Blizzard of 1978

I loved this blizzard so much it made it into my book Waiting for My Cats to Die. I’d just seen this lovely movie, After Life (Roger Ebert gave it four stars). In it, everyone who dies goes to a place where they have to pick one memory, and that memory will be the only memory they take with them when they go wherever it is that dead people go.

So I wrote down my favorite memories, trying to pick which memory I’d take with me, and the blizzard of 1978 was one of the memories I considered (in the end I couldn’t pick one memory, I loved too many). It’s such a simple, small memory, but it stood out for me at the time. I was 20 years old, and even though I couldn’t see more than a couple of feet in front of me I just had to walk from my apartment on Chatham Street into Harvard Square, a five minute walk normally, but I think it took me maybe an hour, the drifts were so high. You couldn’t see where cars were parked. The snow accumulation was so enormous I was walking down the street at a level higher than the tops of the cars!

I’d never been in a blizzard before, I just loved it. It was scary but exhilarating. When I got to Harvard Square, everything was closed of course, except Buddy’s Sirloin Pit, my favorite restaurant. Even better, it was packed with people like myself, people who couldn’t resist seeing what it was like to be out in a blizzard. I wrote about pouring A1 sauce all over my meat and wolfing it down while the room steamed. (I’m a vegetarian now, so this is funny to read.) But I’d built up such a tremendous appetite trudging through those drifts, and fighting wind and snow that was coming at me at what felt like all directions at once, never letting up. It felt like I was in a hurricane of snow. I’d engaged in a battle with nature and had won!

Mayor de Blasio just declared a state of emergency and announced that traffic in the City will be closed at 11pm to all but emergency vehicles. I think I might have to be out and about to see that, if I’m still awake.

The calm before the storm. This is looking down onto the street from my apartment window. My friend Jackie says I wouldn’t love the snow so much if I had to talk a dog. It’s hard to see but this guy is walking a little dog.


Storm is Threatening!

I started this post this morning, got side-tracked, and now it’s 8pm. I don’t remember what I planned to post about because I’m all about the coming storm right now. I LOVE SNOW. Please, please, please don’t be exaggerating, please let it be a great big, true, white-out, storm-of-all-time BLIZ! ZARD! I’m charging my camera batteries in preparation.

People skating at Bryant Park, behind the main branch of the New York Public Library. I like that I got someone flying past confidently and someone who just wiped out. (Sorry wipe-out person.)

Skating Bryant Park, New York City

Black Lives Always Mattered – Part Two

Four days after Thomas Aikens was beaten up and his eye gouged out, (see the previous post) Samuel Edmund Laurie was beaten by Patrolman Zakutinski, [Shield #18396, Precinct 32] and as a result of this beating, died in Harlem Hospital less than an hour later.

A memo was sent to the Police Commissioner with several recommendations to address the conduct of patrolmen assigned to Harlem and to ease the tensions that had arisen between the community and the police. The Commissioner’s response is below.

Arthur Garfield Hays, who apparently headed up the Commission, was a very interesting person, by the way. He was a well known civil liberties lawyer who represented Sacco and Vanzetti. Google him!

Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine was known for fighting corruption within the police department. Unfortunately he was not at all sensitive to issues of racism and brutality. He would not concede that there was any problem whatsoever and not one suggestion was adopted. Reasonable ideas like a committee of five to seven Harlem residents to receive complaints from “colored people” in order to avoid retaliation were rejected.

Mr. Arthur Garfield Hays
The Mayor’s Commission on the Conditions in Harlem
120 Broadway
New York, NY

My Dear Mr. Hays:

In reply to your communication of September 25th, permit me to advise you that …

I, as Police Commissioner, believe that the recommendation to appoint a committee of five to seven Harlem citizens, to receive complaints from colored people, to be unnecessary and impracticable. This department draws no line as to race, color or creed, and every complaint regardless of its source, whether the writer is anonymous or identifiable, against citizens or members of our Department for alleged misconduct, is thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is always taken …

Recommending the printing of leaflets and placards, I deem this suggestion impracticable, because of the obvious impossibility of obtaining large numbers of leaflets and placards that would be required, and the effective distribution of same, within a reasonable time after an unforeseen disorder occurred.

Our municipal radio station, during business hours, could be used in any grave emergency, but most of the private stations while in operation are under contract with advertisers broadcasting commercial programs. Even though it were possible to obtain the cooperation of our large broadcasting companies … the idea appears to me to be impracticable because of the impossibility of addressing those responsible for the disorder and others in the immediate area …

In connection with the last paragraph of your letter, please be advised that each of the cases contained therein have been thoroughly investigated by appropriate officials of this Department and no cause for disciplinary action was found …

In connection with the death of Edward Laurie, on March 23, 1935, Assistant District Attorney Price presented this case to the New York County Grand Jury and the exonerated Patrolman Abraham Zabutinsky, 32nd Precinct. [I started to look into this case, and this may not have been a case of police brutality, but a genuine accident.]

In the alleged assault upon Thomas Aiken by Patrolman David Egan, 32nd Precinct, the facts in this case were presented to the New York County Grand Jury … and no indictment was found against either the prisoner or against Patrolman Egan … [two other cases were addressed]

Assuring you of my desire to cooperate, and with warmest regards …

Very Truly Yours,
Lewis J. Valentine
Police Commissioner

Looking up at a building. The zoom lens captures what was too far away for my eyes to see.


Black Lives Always Mattered – Part One

This post is in honor of the movie Selma, which I saw last night. I know there has been criticism about the portrayal of LBJ, but after reading the back and forth I side with the filmmaker. To represent everything everyone did to contribute to this incredible chapter in history would have taken a week long documentary. Also, I don’t think LBJ is represented as a villain. I think he comes off like a president who has to juggle many issues and needs and emerges a hero.

The following is taken from the Mayor’s collection at the Municipal Archives, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia Subject Files, Harlem Survey Complaints, Roll 83.

The year is 1935 and America was in the midst of the great Depression. On March 19 a black sixteen year old named Lino Rivera had been caught stealing a pen knife from a five and dime. When he subsequently disappeared and the police failed to communicate what had happened to him, and whether he was alive or dead, violence erupted. This had already been a bad year for young black men in Harlem and the citizens were right to be concerned. Although the boy had actually escaped all harm, an unarmed sixteen year old high school student named Lloyd Hobbs was shot and killed by the police later that evening, along with two other men, with many more wounded as well.

When the Grand Juries declined to indict the police officers in four cases of possible misconduct that year, including those that had occurred during the riot, Mayor La Guardia ordered his own investigation. This is the investigator’s first memo.

To: The Sub-Committee on Crime and Police Treatment
From: James H. Tarter, Jr., Investigator
Subject: The Aiken’s Case

Thomas Aikens, a young Negro, 28 years of age, and who came from a respectable family was standing in a bread line in the 369th Infantry Armory Building on March 13, 1935 … Mr. Aikens placed himself in the line at about 10:30 in the morning … At about 1:30 in the afternoon, when the line had reached the point where he would have received his food, he was shoved a bit out of line by other men … At this point, two policemen, namely David Egan [Patrolman Egan, shield #9761, Precinct 32] and Eugene Cahill, came to him and, with abusive language, told him to go to the end of the line which now had increased to 800 men. Aikens protested, stating that he was out of line due to the constant pushing by the men and that he had a right to remain where he was, having been in line since 10:30 in the morning. With this protest he was labeled a ‘smart nigger’ and immediately was set upon by the two police officers who were assisted by another white man known as ‘Cap,’ and who is in charge of feeding the men who come to the Armory. Aikens was first struck in the mouth by a blunt instrument (baton) … someone struck him on the head again and again … he fell to the floor, unconscious, and he lay there nearly 30 minutes. Finally, he was dragged across the armory floor, and the policemen put in a call for the patrol wagon … someone else called for an ambulance … Aikens states that he could hear the policeman telling the ambulance surgeon to clean the blood from the face in order that he could be taken to the police station. The doctor is reported to have stated that the man (Aikens) was in serious condition, which necessitated his being taken to the hospital …

It would be interesting to note that the arresting officer displayed little interest in the injuries inflicted upon Aikens until the admitting physician informed him of Aikens’ serious condition. It is very evident that the arresting officer became aware of the necessity of erecting a defense, and this was done in the form of the charge of felonious assault by Aikens on the arresting officer. The following is a true and accurate transcript of the cowardly defense resorted to by the arresting officer [Aikens lost an eye as a result of the assault] …

“Arrested at 9 West 142nd Street, 369th Armory, charged with willfully and wrongfully striking officer on left side of face with clenched fist, while officer was attempting to arrest him for causing a disturbance, using loud and boisterous language, tending to excite several hundred men who were in line, possibly thereby tending to cause a riot. — Patrolman Egan #9761, Precinct 32″ …

The beating sustained by Aikens occurred on March 13th, and six days later (March 19th), the disturbance commonly called the Harlem Riot occurred and as a result, the Aikens case was one of the first to be called to the attention of the committee formed by the Mayor, later known as the Mayor’s Commission on Conditions in Harlem … The chairmen of the sub-committee asked Patrolman Egan if he wanted to testify. He replied by stating, “I do not wish to testify. Whatever testimony I would give would defeat the ends of justice.” …

It is unexplainably bad police work when two armed police officers cannot arrest an unarmed helpless citizen … In the Magistrate’s Court officer Egan testified that he suffered laceration of the mouth and several teeth were knocked out by the defendant, Aikens.

After making a diligent search of all the records in Harlem Hospital, no record was found which showed that the officer had been treated …

The Grand Jury, after hearing testimony of Mr. Aikens, dismissed the charge against him preferred by the officer, and refused to indict the officer on a counter charge. Mr. Aikens has instituted civil action against the officer and is asking $25,000 damages for the loss of his eye …

It is this worker’s belief that the atrocious treatment of Aikens by officer Egan and Cahill gives a cross section of the attitude of the police assigned to the Harlem area. It is unfortunate that the Grand Jury did not find a true bill against the offenders; the action of this Grand Jury may well be found to create two very serious problems, namely:

1. Encouragement to the police officers in this area to continue their brutal methods, with no fear as to the consequences.

2. An attitude on the part of the citizens of genuine antagonism towards police officers, this creating a feeling of insecurity which may terminate into a major crime waves, not against the citizens but against the police department.

To be continued …

I took this shot on the way home from seeing Selma last night. What kind of tree is this? It doesn’t look quite real.

Tree, Greenwich Village, New York City

Bleecker on the Speaker

I was going though my pictures of Bleecker, looking for a simple headshot of him to add to the banner, and I discovered I don’t really have one. But in the process I came across a few shots of him that I truly love. In this one he’s sitting on my desk, with his head craned unnaturally up so he could rest it on top of the speaker. There’s no way that could have been comfortable!

Bleeck: What? Why are you grabbing the camera? No, seriously, what? I like it here.

Bleecker on the Speaker