Golden Gate Park. San Francisco. 1970. The day of the May 4 Massacre at Kent State, Ohio.The Ohio National Guard opened fire on students killing four and wounding nine others, leaving one of them paralyzed. The students were protesting the Cambodian Campaign that President Nixon announced on TV on April 30, a few days prior.
I was in high school. A hippie through and through. I drank in the philosophy- make love not war -. Formations of teens and young adults flocked to Golden Gate Park to protest this and many other injustices. I was among them.
The police were there. “Pigs” we called them. They were insane, violent. They carried tear gas and clubs and used them often. They represented all that we were protesting against – the killing of innocent people, the draft – forcing young kids to do something they hated – the Viet Nam War, Racism, Sexism, White Male Dominance.
I, along with so many of my friends, had the answers – stop the war, love conqueres all. I was strong, relentless in my beliefs, and certain of my disgust for anyone who represented war, especially the “Pigs.” I yelled for Nixon’s impeachment, and proposed that Joan Baez run for President!
Racial riots broke out all over the city. Janus Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix died of overdoses along with many of my aquaintances. Drugs flowed through George Washington High School, while the Black students hung banners that read, “Black Power,” and threw black paint over the cream-colored statue of George Washington sitting in the school’s front lobby. The police were everywhere, outside the school premises, all along the sidewalk, and swarming the parks and beaches.
Amidst all of this, at our dinner table, my mother lamented her own childhood. “We had respect for our elders We had a neighborhood policeman, Tony. We talked with him on our way to school, waved to him on the weekends. I adored him. You kids have no idea how good a policeman can be.” She didn’t know what she was talking about – or did she?
Over forty years later, on Monday, April 15, 2013 Boston was terrorized. It was Patriots Day. The Boston Marathon. Jackie Robinson Day. The Red Sox, as usual played a home game at Fenway – they honored Jackie Robinson and wore uniforms that bore his number on the backs of their shirts-42. Hours later there was an explosion. Then another. Bombs changed lives in seconds. One hundred seventy people were hospitalized- eleven limbs were amputated, and three had died.
Just the day before the victims were preparing to run an enormous event – families and friends agreed on meeting places to cheer their loved ones on – and then in a flash, our lives changed forever. Boston was terrified. I felt the shock. It tremored through my body for days.
I live in a quiet, charming New England sleepy, small town. Only an hour away from Boston. The hyacinths, crocuses and daffodils were blooming. The weather was beginning to turn away from the freezing, relentlessness cold. The birds sang for the sheer joy of it.
The bombs silenced everyone. Except the police force. The public helped. There were the cameras over Lord and Taylor Department Store, and the thousands of photos and videos pouring in. One of the hospitalized victims stated that he saw the younger bomber, eye to eye. He saw him put the bag down. He asked for a sketch artist and described the younger bomber to a tee. The police knew who the suspects were within days.
Thursday night April 18. MIT in Cambridge. There was a huge gun fire fight with the suspects and the police. One MIT cop was shot dead. Another wounded. The gun fire went on for hours. The older brother died and the younger escaped.
Five major towns were shut down – Watertown, Belmont, Newton,Cambridge, Boston – from Thursday night into Friday. The Swat Teams, The FBI and the Boston Police were working as one huge presence. One cop, during the fight, jumped out of his car, but not before putting it into neutral. He let the car roll. The empty, rolling, police vehicle took hundreds of bullets cops would have taken instead. Another cop tackled the older brother, Tamerian Tsarnaev. The younger suspect, Dzkhokar, in his hurry to drive away, reportedly ran over his brother and killed him.
Soon after Dzhokar was finally caught late Friday night, there was a huge celebration on the Boston Commons. Hundreds of people poured out of their homes to breathe fresh air and to gather. The Boston cops, utterly exhausted, had to show up. They feared violence. They feared an angry crowd.
As they walked onto the Commons, a huge cheer rose up from the impromptu community. The police were swamped with a welcoming, grateful, crowd. A natural “recieving line” formed. Every person there shook each policeman’s hand and thanked him. As one policeman said, his voice choked with emotion, “We seldom see the gratitude. It was the gratitude.”
The Boston Police acted heroically that day. They are heroes. Heroes.The word keeps seeping into my system like a long awaited glass of water. I’ve been told it takes forty years to change a belief. And it’s been that amount of time since the Kent State Massacre. Didn’t Moses wander in the desert for that long?
April 15, 2013 will be that day of deep change for me. I bow to the Boston Police Force for going beyond the call of duty, for their courage and commitment. I bow to the time it takes to change a thought process. One that I had had no idea was still lurking.