Cops, karate, hate, love, revolution, and all like that

BOB BOSSIN March 1 1970

Cops, karate, hate, love, revolution, and all like that

BOB BOSSIN March 1 1970

Cops, karate, hate, love, revolution, and all like that



DAVE HENRY IS a Weatherman and, on the unlikely chance that you’ve never heard of the Weathermen, I should explain that most people look on them as the lunatic fringe of the protest movement. Even most people in the protest movement look on them as the lunatic fringe of the protest movement. Dave Henry’s day goes something like this: up at 7 a.m. for an early-morning shift at a high school, handing out leaflets; karate class at 10.30 a.m.; a meeting in the afternoon; an action at night, followed by a criticism session; and back to bed at three in the morning. Sometimes the day includes a street battle with police. Among student radicals there are even Weatherman jokes: “In Gotham City, 5,000 helmeted police, carrying Mace, hand grenades, and bazookas, stand guarding a flagpole of symbolic importance . . . This is a job for Weatherman.”

So, as I get off the bus, I am prepared to interview King Kong. Instead, I meet a friendly, soft-spoken and, considering he fights cops, a small kid from New York. It is very disconcerting. Can you picture Lenin declaiming the ultimate overthrow of the ruling class in a Brooklyn accent?

There are about 700 Weathermen in the U.S. The name comes from the Bob Dylan line, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Dave Henry is one of about 200 who live in communes or “gangs” in various American cities. Last fall, in Chicago, they fought police for four days, injuring 57. In Washington, they tried to serve an I eviction notice on the South Vietna-

mese embassy, and were tear-gassed. You win some, you lose some.

I ask Henry what he thinks of John Lennon.

“Well, John Lennon is part of the problem. I mean, some of the longings for peace are progressive, but lying in bed isn’t going to bring it about. Anyway, the status quo is not peace. Twelve thousand people will starve to death today in the free world because food is produced for profit and people don’t have money to buy it. We even pay farmers not to grow crops so the prices will be high. That’s not peace. That’s violence. Civilians, people, are being destroyed by the status quo every day, and there is only one way to change that. Get rid of a system based on profit and a narrow ruling class. Rockefeller isn’t going to give up the wealth he’s taking out ‘of Latin America because someone turns him on or sings a nice song about peace.”

Where do the Weathermen fit in?

“Until now the white Left has been a comfortable discussion group, a way to feel good and say, ‘See, I’m on the side of the people.’ But it never added to the struggle physically . . . In Vietnam, in the third world, people have to keep alive, while American companies plunder their country for profit. Sure, white people are oppressed, too, but we figure, T can slide by.’ The ideal of most students, even the ones who call themselves socialists, is passivity. Well, the world isn’t ready for that. We think white people have been more comfortable than other people, and we have to learn that we’re going to have to fight to change the system.”

I am beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Not only am I a white student radical but, when I hold my ideal up to the light in a certain way, it does take on a passive sort of look. All of a sudden, I'm in the status-quo position, and I don’t like it one bit.

But then, Weathermen aren’t winning all that many converts either and well, anyway, it’s just not nice to beat up on police.

“Sure, older people are freaked by what we are doing,” Henry continues. “But there’s a difference between workirtgçclass kids and older people. It’s not just us who call the police ‘pigs,’ it’s the youth, the kids stuck in the schools, the ones who get drafted. Their first rebellion was with music and drugs. Remember when the hippies first went around kissing cops and putting flowers in the soldiers’ gun barrels? At first the cops didn’t know what to do. Then they did. They just beat the kids up and arrested them. Those kids aren’t kissing cops any more. It’s the cops who kick kids out of the park, harass them, bust up demonstrations, bust them for drugs. Only so far the kids don’t think it’s possible to fight the Pig and win. In Chicago, we showed that the power structure, the system, and particularly the police aren’t invincible ...”

By now, I’m trying to follow my own mixed-up feelings about police.

A policeman is your friend.

Policemen stop teenagers at random and search them. Police arrested my friend Sean (wrongly) and in the station they beat him up just a bit: a punch above the hairline where it doesn’t show, and a knee in the groin. Sean called the police doctor. He came, and so did the cop who had hit Sean. The doctor could see no evidence. Sean pointed to blood on the policeman’s knuckle. The policeman said he’d scraped the knuckle while walking down the corridor. The doctor said no evidence, and left.

Police get cats out of trees, catch bank robbers and protect property.

In 1968 in Toronto, police rode their horses into a crowd of peace demonstrators. There had been no violence, no disorder, just speeches about ending the war. Thirty - four arrests. The police weren’t wearing their numbers. I remember the feeling — shock, chill, anger, surprise — when all of a sudden the horses were on the sidewalk and coming at us,' the way it was in the scene of the Workers’ Peaceful Demonstration in Dr. Zhivago, and me shouting, “The streets belong to the people, the streets belong to the people.”


Police are crossing guards, and they give speeding tickets and parking tickets, and defend the state. Once, we marched to the Toronto Globe and Mail building to protest distorted coverage of Quebec demonstrations. The police arrested somebody at every corner for not making it out of the intersection before the light turned. Jay-walking, $22.80, even though the only motor traffic in sight was police cars. And that was in downtown Toronto — among white, middle-class, “educated” English Canadians — not in Quebec, not near an Indian reservation, not in a black Halifax ghetto.

But hell, who are the cops? Some are guys my age, or younger, guys who would like to have longer hair if it weren’t against regulations. They don’t set the rules, they just obey them. They have to, or they get fired. At the last Vietnam moratorium in Toronto I went up to a cop and, as nicely as I could, I said, “What do you think of the war?” He looked away. “Do you just not think about it, or are you not allowed to talk to us?” He still looked away, and then he glanced at me as if to say, “Help,” and then said very quietly, “I think about it.” I said, “Peace,” and split.

But now, Dave Henry is talking about how the Weathermen are part of a worldwide revolution, and how some of them will go to jail in the effort to open up another front in the revolution, and some may even be killed, “but some day those jails are going to be broken open.”

In the meantime, I wonder, is there any space for love, even at the rate of 12,000 starvations a day?

“Sure,” he says. “Sure there’s a place for love, but love isn’t a passive thing, it isn’t curling up in a corner. It’s acting. If you love people, you’ve got to want to tear down the system that’s oppressing them. If you really love, you've got to hate what’s being done to people.”

I realize that I like Henry, hate, love, violence, Brooklyn accent and all. I’m just not sure his strategy will work. “What’s your alternative?” he says. I shrug. Then he smiles and gives me the first, the more militant version of the V sign that even Nixon uses now. He leaves. He’s singing, “Power to the people/Off the Pig.” I take the bus back.

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