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December 7, 1967, Vol. XIII, No. 8
Dawn’s Early Light On Whitehall Street
by Sally Kempton
There were two dramatic moments at Tuesday’s sit-in demonstration. The first was pure ritual: the arrival of the demonstrators in the pre-dawn darkness. They trickled toward the assembly area at Peter Minuit Plaza, straining to recognize each other under the streetlights, while behind them massed in phalanxes around Whitehall Induction Center, stood 2500 members of the Police Department’s Tactical Patrol Force. The police looked like an army, and when David McReynolds, using a bullhorn, began to call the demonstrators together, the impression was of a leader calling a small band of guerrillas to march against legions.
McReynolds sent out three prongs. The first squadron, including Dr. Benjamin Spock, Jane Jacobs, Allen Ginsberg, Susan Sontag, and about 15 others, was to attempt to take the front steps of the Induction Center, which, like all the other entrances, had been barricaded against the demonstration.
Spock’s group managed to get under the barricade (where Spock was accosted by a policeman who wanted to show him pictures of his children) and to sit down on the steps before they were arrested.
Grace Paley led the second section, about 100 people, around to the intersection of Broad and Bridge Streets, where they sat down in front of the barricades, about a block from the Induction Center. They had been sitting for about 20 minutes when the second dramatic incident occurred.
Mrs. Paley had explained to the police, about 400 of whom were lined up between the demonstrators and the barricades, that the people sitting in expected to be arrested, and the police had agreed to take them into the vans without incident. Now a police van began to edge forward down the alley the demonstrators were blocking. Then, just as dawn was breaking, the van speeded up, passed the barricades, and drove directly into the seated crowd. Half of the demonstrators panicked and ran. At that point, the surrounding policemen, several of whom were mounted, moved through the crowd, shoving and dragging those who had not moved out of the way. One body of about 40 demonstrators was knocked against a barricade and then driven over it by mounted police. Several people were kicked, one boy was hit in the neck by a nightstick and severely injured, and a girl was dragged off the street by her hair.
The violence ended as soon as the police scattered the demonstrators. Afterward, most of the group returned to their positions on the pavement where they were arrested rather quietly and taken away in vans. Many people, including several from the supporting picket line, attempted to get through the barricades to take the place of the arrested demonstrators, but were restrained by the police.
More than 3000 pickets remained at the Induction Center through the morning and well into the afternoon.
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