Yip-In Turns Into Bloody Mess as Police Riot at Grand Central
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. March 28, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 24
The Grand Central Riot: Yippies Meet the Man by Don McNeill
All the brass was watching Chief Inspector Sanford Garelik, shielded by a cluster of Tactical Patrol Force heavies, leaned against the wall in the 42nd Street entrance to Grand Central Station, intently watching the churning sea of demonstrators. Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, Lindsay's roving sensory apparatus, roamed around the terminal for hours. And a dozen privileged persons of some sort lined the balcony above the escalators leading to the Pan Am Building, observing the melee below like Romans digging the arena.
All the brass was watching, and the cops were having a ball. "It was the most extraordinary display of unprovoked police brutality I've seen outside of Mississippi," Alan Levine, staff counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a press conference on Saturday.
"The police reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of being unleashed." Levine reported seeing several people forced to run a gauntlet of club-wielding cops while trying to flee from what has been characterized as a "police riot." Spitting invective through clenched teeth, cops hit women and kicked demonstrators who had fallen while trying to escape the flailing nightsticks. It was like a fire in a theatre.
It was a Yip-In. "It's a spring mating service celebrating the equinox," read a Yippie handbill, "a back-scratching party, a roller-skating rink, a theatre, with you, performer and audience." The Yip-In was held for Yippies to get acquainted, and to promote the Yippies' "Festival of Life," which will coincide with the Democratic National Con....
[Rest of story and several pages from issue missing.]
Scenes by Howard Smith
I WAS A WITNESS to the entire Grand Central Riot. As a reporter I've been at many events that generated violence between the police and mobs. Faced with certain kinds of demonstrations, such as those by peace, youth, and minority groups, the police seemed to become violent easily. In Grand Central Station last Friday night the police seemed to have no plan about what to do, so all that was left was pure brutality. The next day, after the raw shock had worn off, I was left with a lot of questions about what I had witnessed. I am told I am naive for asking.
Did the police expect a crowd that large? Why didn't they ask the Yippie organizers?
Did the police have any advance plan for different contingencies? The police are supposed to be highly trained in keeping order. Doesn't highly trained imply advance strategy?
Why was a warning never issued to the crowd? Why did the police never use the public address system in Grand Central or at least their own portable systems? Did they think an announcement to clear an area would cause the crowd to stiffen and get ready to fight back? Even if that were true, weren't the police morally bound to give warning, at least once, so that anyone hurt would be responsible for himself?
Did Chief Inspector Garelick, who was in charge, think a stark show of the police being recklessly tough could miraculously and suddenly clear the terminal?
The crowd was primarily high school age -- an age particularly sensitive to arbitrariness in other people. Because the police never announced what they were going to do, so that the crowd would at least have a choice of backing up or being beaten back, actions of the police seemed totally arbitrary. They made no attempt to keep clear the areas they had just fought to clear (with portable wooden parade barricades, for example). Instead they just let the crowd fill in again. Because the police set up no demarcation line, arrests seemed entirely random. Didn't they realize this?
Why did they drag out people who could obviously walk and weren't resisting? When these people asked to walk, the police took the request to be "resisting" and proceeded to club them. Didn't they realize this only stiffened the resistance of the crowd?
Thousands of middle-class kids witnessed the police violence they had only read about before. Didn't the police realize they were permanently hardening with experience the kids' heretofore vague bias?
Plainclothesmen who circulated through the crowd before the trouble actively assisted after the first melee. Is it correct for a plainclothes cop to act as a uniformed policeman without wearing his badge? Doesn't this give him license to be particularly vicious since he can't be identified? Anyone, including the press, asking for plainclothesmen's names was threatened, arrested, or ignored. When I asked two who were particularly rough over and over for their names and showed my police press card I was told with a smile, "fuck off."
These are just a few of the questions that I feel have to be answered by someone as high up as Police Commissioner Leary or at least someone no lower than Mayor Lindsay.
[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.]
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