Nat Hentoff's Greatest Hits

Excerpts from his first 50 years at the Voice

If only Wechsler would try, just try, role reversal for a moment. Stand down there, black, and look up. What does that rear façade say to you? What is its message from Columbia? Kiss my three-kinds-of-stone-and-concrete ass.

[ May 9, 1968]


50 Years of Pissing People Off
Allen Barra celebrates Nat Hentoff

For some months now, it's been clear that from time to time, sections of the New York City police force, seized by a lust for violence, could not be handled. Not by Commissioner Leary; not by that humanist of the higher police echelons, Sanford Garelik; and not by those on the Mayor's staff assigned as liaison personnel between the Mayor's office and the police.

Police have rioted, among other occasions, at:

  • The April 15, 1967, Spring Mobilization March;

  • The May 30, 1967, music festival in Tompkins Square Park;

  • The November 14, 1967, demonstration against Dean Rusk near the New York Hilton Hotel;

  • The December 4-8, 1967, week of anti-draft demonstrations;

  • The January 24, 1968, demonstration against the Diamond Ball near the Plaza Hotel;

  • The March 22, 1968, Yip-In at Grand Central Station;

  • The April 27 repression of an anti- Vietnam march which was to start from Washington Square Park.

    To my knowledge, not one policeman, plainclothes or uniformed, has been disciplined as a result of any of these incidents of police violence. Nor has any superior officer in charge of any of those occasions been disciplined. Until last week, the Mayor was silent. Not for want of people asking him to speak up.

    Then came the night of blood at Columbia. This time there was too much blood to ignore. Television was there, and the press. The Times, as is its strange custom, muted the degree and extent of police violence. The Post did not. Last week I spoke to at least 20 people who were involved—students, faculty, observers, press, Mayor's aides, members of the Medical Committee on Human Rights. Preston Wilcox, one of the coolest men under pressure I've ever known, told me: "That night I really got a sense of what it's like to be in a police state." A doctor at Mount Sinai, who had volunteered to help anybody who needed help: "The plainclothesmen and detectives were wild animals. They were beating up people who had offered no resistance at all, and in most cases were bystanders." A reporter who was much stronger in conversation with me than in the piece he wrote: "Those goddamned plainclothesmen were fucking brutes. They were just a bunch of animals." A man on the Mayor's staff: "There's no question about it. Some of those cops were just animals."

    . . . Police Commissioner Leary (New York Post, April 30) praised his men for doing "an excellent job."

    [ June 13, 1968]

    What is insanity? On the front page of the June 6 New York Times, Robert Kennedy, eyes closed, life going. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan being removed from the hotel. And Lyndon Johnson proclaiming: "Let us for God's sake resolve to live under law. Let us put an end to violence and the preaching of violence." But not a word from Lyndon Johnson about the laws we break in Vietnam, about the violence we continue to commit in Vietnam. . . .

    And what is sanity? From the Liberation News Service, datelined San Francisco: "David Harris, a leader of the Resistance, was found guilty for refusing induction and was sentenced to three years in jail. The judge told Harris that he was 'the most willful violator of the law I have ever seen,' and he said the sentence was for 'purely punitive reasons' since Harris was 'not rehabilitative.' Harris replied, 'Thank you.' " Obviously, Mr. Harris is eminently sane.

    What makes sense? Two weeks ago, Paul Goodman called with an idea. "We need a massive victory to stop the Pentagon." To stop the operations of what Izzy Stone calls the "huge human abattoir" in which we live. Paul's idea was a McCarthy-Lindsay ticket [referring to Wisconsin senator Eugene McCarthy and New York mayor John Lindsay] as the only conceivable combination that could produce a massive pro-life victory. Lindsay does know urban problems, and he has been against the war in Vietnam a very long time. After Paul called, I thought, of course, of how impossible an idea it was—however totally sensible. Lindsay would never jump his party. The Democratic convention would never nominate such a ticket. I suppose it still is an impossible idea, but if assassination and if death in Vietnam remain so persistently, horrifyingly actual, is this idea completely beyond "reason" in our "real" world of the abattoir? Could a national movement be organized behind that ticket in such numbers as to make clear the overwhelming support a McCarthy-Lindsay combination would have? I would welcome suggestions, or better yet, action.

    [ May 5, 1975]

    The same indignant question, "What the hell's going on at the Voice?" invariably erupts these nights when I talk at colleges, no matter the alleged subject of the evening. . . .

    In one respect, the new management has unquestionably improved the Voice—the way it looks. The look of the old Voice resembled the prose of Buckminster Fuller. Some years ago I.F. Stone told me, "I'd like to read your stuff in the Voice, but I can't find it." The paper was a maze, and ought to have given weekly prizes to those who could find the endings to more than two stories.

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