Nat Hentoff on the Police Riot Against Yippies at Grand Central

Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. April 4, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 25

Keeping the Cops From Rioting by Nat Hentoff

As Don McNeill's story in last week's Voice made clear -- much, much clearer than any of the writing in the Times on the event -- members of the police force rioted at Grand Central Station on the night of March 22. Considering that cops bashed Don's own head into a glass door, McNeill's story was remarkably controlled. I couldn't have done it. Stitches and all, Don also underlined the culpability of YIP and the Mayor's office in setting up the kind of situation which made it easier for the police to be unleashed.

But no matter what the failures in planning and communication, there is no possible rationalization for the police savagery that night.

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The Times story (March 24) considerably muted the degree of that savagery. And in Monday's Late City Edition (March 25), the Times buried the accusations by YIP leaders against the police on the obituary page. Nor have I yet to see a Times editorial on the subject.

Martin Jezer, an editor of WIN magazine and a correspondent for Liberation News Service, was at Grand Central. He wrote a letter to the Times, describing how the police went berserk. But so far it's not been printed. The Post meanwhile did far better than the Times on this one. (Arthur Greenspan's March 10 story.)

I waited for the Mayor to say something, and on Wednesday called one of his press aides. Curiously, he said, no reporter at the Tuesday press conference brought up the subject. It's curious indeed and is hardly a tribute to the alertness of the City Hall press corps. But, considering the Mayor's civil liberties record in Congress, why did he have to wait for a question? Why wasn't concern on his part self-generating, publicly self-generating?

So I asked around some more. "Look!" said a Mayor's aide, "there was no excuse for the police brutality." "Then the Mayor ought to say that." "Yes, he should, and he will." Maybe he will have by the time this comes out, but he hasn't so far.

"What are you going to do about it?" I asked. "This is so obviously a pattern -- cops rioted during the week of anti-draft protests and others rioted during the Rusk demonstration outside the Hilton. Are you just going to let this go on?"

"No. One thing we're going to do is have a lot more supervisory officers out there with the men. A cop knows that if an officer sees him working someone over, he'll be in trouble."

From Don McNeill's Voice story on the beating of 17-year-old Jon Moore: "...a police captain approached and made the guise of breaking it up. Moore, who was now hunched over protecting his head and groin, looked up, and the captain grabbed his head and cracked it against the iron grating of the door, curing 'you son of a bitch.' The captain turned away, brushing his hands and Moore was taken out of the station. H was later charged with felonious assault."

From Joseph Feurey and Jay Levin's New York Post story (March 26): "A Yonkers woman, Mrs. Boyd Zinman, said today that she saw four policemen drag a youth behind track gates and beat him with their nightsticks as their commanding officer looked on approvingly...'They had his arms pulled up behind him and they were giving him a terrible beating,' she said. 'I walked up and I said, "Does it take four your size to beat one kid?" 'The captain then walked over, he was only about three feet away, and he said "You want to be pulled in lady? Mind your own business!" Then he asked me where I was going. I said I was waiting for a train. He said, "Well, get on it or I'll pull you in."'"

Who the hell is going to supervise the supervisory officers? Is anything going to happen to either of those captains? What do YOU think the odds are?

"So what else are you going to do?" I asked.

"Well, Garelick is issuing an order to every policeman on the rights of the press." I expect Don McNeill's picture will be on that order.

"And," the Mayor's aide went on, "there'll be a review to set much more exact policy in situations like this -- how crowds should be moved and handled, how policemen should be trained."

Not enough. Not enough by a whole lot...

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

Nat Hentoff on the Police Riot Against Yippies at Grand Central

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