(Special thanks to two racist cops and George Corley Wallace). It was October 1968, a strange time to be alive. I was an unwilling member of Lyndon Baines Johnson's army, back home in New York on a thirty day leave, under orders to go back to Fort Lewis in November for transport to the Republic of Vietnam, where I was going to be a replacement.
That was the year three men were running for the White House. The most despicable of the three was a man who had said this: Today I have stood where Jefferson Davis stood and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom. . . . In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. And I say, Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!(1) George Wallace, 1962 Governor's Inaugural Address
I didn't like politicians, and I especially didn't like that one. Little did I realize as I sat on the plane taking me from SeaTac Airport in Washington State that this man and a racist cop named Scheiskopf would be keeping me safe and sound. I had been home a while, moping, sweating, fretting and worrying, making plans and alternate plans, losing myself in Alice's Restaurant fantasies, flipping out. I was sitting in front of my parents' TV watching a newscast (me being very downcast I was not doing the standard "boy's night out" kind of 30 day leave in New York.) Paul O'Dwyer was there standing in front of a crowd of Garment Worker Union members urging them and "all decent New Yorkers" to come to Madison Square Garden to show the world that New York rejects George Wallace, who had a big rally scheduled there that night. I decided to go there, by myself. I was depressed but wanted to make my little statement. I expected to get there and be herded behind a police barricade with a few hundred others, walk around shouting slogans, and go home. This was not to be.
As I made my way from the Herald Square subway station along 34th street I could see a crowd forming up. As I got closer I saw that there were no police barricades. I hung around a while but things started to get ugly in a way I had never seen first hand, and frankly had never expected to see in the middle of Manhattan, ever. The crowd continued to grow and horse mounted cops were making individual forays into the crowd, swinging night sticks, trampling people and shouting obscenities. I had two impulses, one to run and the other to refuse to run. This was outrageous. I found myself being chased east down 33rd Street by a mounted cop at full gallop. Thanks to my good GI training I was able to hurl myself over a parked car and onto the sidewalk, relatively safe from him. I looked around, and saw two black men sprawled out on the staircase of the 34th Street 8th Avenue subway, their heads bleeding. I could hear sirens and shattering glass. I decided on a strategic retreat. As I ran towards the East, I collided into Bob Riley, a long time neighborhood fixture, known to many affectionately as "the black Irishman." I don't know who was more surprised, Riley or me. We didn't have much time to catch up on old times at that minute. We both agreed to head north at 7th Avenue, find a tavern, and empty a few glasses. This was not to be.
As we reached Seventh Avenue we could see that the Avenue itself was lined with parked buses, that had brought the Wallacites from points along the East Coast to their rally in "enemy territory." Before we could cross 34th Street a Navy Blue unmarked cop car pulled up and two beefy men jumped out. Another cop car, this one a squad car, pulled up quickly alongside, and we found ourselves being shoved against a parked bus, our faces pounded by two plainclothes cops where were shouting "ni@@er" and "f***in' ni@@er lover!" Before I knew what happened I was in the back of the squad car handcuffed to Riley. A Sergeant and a plainclothes were in front. Another plainclothes squeezed into the back alongside of us. Several blackjack whacks to the kneecap and several punches in the face later we pulled up outside the Midtown South precinct. Of course we had been promised on this short ride that we were going to "wake up in the fucking hospital." This also was not to be.
There were about five or six photographers outside the precinct and the Sergeant muttered "shit if they walk in they have to walk out." I quickly found myself on a staircase tumbling on top of Riley, still handcuffed to him. The next morning we stood before a judge at the Tombs on Center Street after spending the night standing in a packed cell with a few dozen black men who were in varying states of injury. (There was one toilet without the inside this cell or more appropriately bullpen.) The judge was shouting something at me about my demeanor as I heard that we were being charged with Riot I, Encitement to Riot, Reckless Endangerment, Attempted Felonious Assault and of course, Resisting Arrest. To my surprise the Military Police were not waitng for me. I realized later that this was because I had not (yet anyhow) violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
I got bailed out by my parents that night, and Riley got out the next day. A clerk gave me a piece of paper directing me to return to Manhattan Criminal Court on November 15. The only problem was, I had another peice of paper issued by The Army ordering me to return to Fort Lewis on November 6, to the US Army Replacement Station there, for transport to Vietnam. The next morning I packed my things and headed down to the infamous Whitehall Street, where this particular dream had begun a year earlier. I thought that for sure, my 30 day leave had been cut short. This was not the case:
UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE "814. ART. 14. DELIVERY OF OFFENDERS TO CIVIL AUTHORITIES (a) Under such regulations as the Secretary concerned may prescribe, a member of the armed forces accused of an offense against civil authority may be delivered, upon request, to the civil authority for trial. (b) When delivery under this article is made to any civil authority of a person undergoing sentence of a court-martial, the delivery, if followed by conviction in a civil tribunal, interrupts the execution of the sentence of the court-martial, and the offender after having answered to the civil authorities for his offense shall, upon the request of competent military authority, be returned to military custody for the completion of his sentence. "
All this meant that I was not going to stand court-martial prior to conviction in the civilian court, and that the military was going to produce me for trial at 100 Center Street, New York, New York on November 15.
I walked in to Whitehall Street dragging my duffle bag behind me expecting to be whisked away to the Detention Center at Fort Monmouth. I walked up to the desk in the lobby, handed the Sergeant there both of my pieces of paper and waited for the MP's. The Sergeant brought me in to see the Lieutenant, and the Lieutenant brought me in to see a Captain named Fubar. After it was all over they had me wait in the lobby. The Sergeant called me to his desk and gave me a mimeographed order to report to Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn in two weeks! He told me to enjoy the rest of my leave. that was that.
At Fort Hamilton they put me on a bus to Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, a satellite base of Hamilton. They assigned me to be a clerk (I had Army Personnel Records training - another story.) I had permission to live off base (at my parent's apartment) and reported every morning at 6:00 AM to formation. Well, folks, back in those days when cops and Assistant District Attorneys wanted to hurt political demonstrators they would contrive to delay the trial. For the average defendant this meant repeated court appearances. Riley finally lost his job, inspite of all the lies he had to tell his boss to explain the days he would have to take off . If Officer Scheiskopf would show up at a hearing then Dreksau would be out sick. If Dreksau showed up Scheiskopf would be on vacation, and on and on it went. Now this had a salutory effect on my situation. The long and the short of it was that I didn't actually stand trial until I was out of the Army. I was home free. I was convicted of disorderly conduct, appealed that one and won. And that's my war story.
BAD KARMA IN THE HOUSE OF DREKSAU
Every once in a while I still get a sharp wince of pain in my left knee, the knee that Officer Dreksau hammered with his blackjack on that night in October of 1968. Nevertheless Officers Scheiskopf, Dreksau and George Wallace had taken an enormous burden off my shoulders on that night. I didn't have to go to Vietnam, or exile, or jail. A few years after that night I was back in college in Staten Island, in a rented campus near the ferry.
One afternoon after class as I was walking to the ferry I heard someone shout my name. I looked around and immediately recognized Officer Dreksau, with Scheiskopf standing right there beside him, gesturing towards me as they walked in my direction. Dreksau was not in uniform, just as he had not been in uniform the night he became my Arresting Officer. We strode towards each other and as we got close, he threw his arm around my shoulder and asked me with a big grin on his face "How ya doin' buddy!? Are ya stayin' outta trouble? how's that other guy, what's his name, Riley?!" "I'm fine" I answered. "Been out of trouble since that night. I don't know where Riley even is." "Well, if ya run inta him again, tell him I said hello."
Around ten years later...... I'm driving a taxi down Seventh Avenue with a busted headlight and I pick up a frantic woman with lots of luggage in front of Penn Station. I tell her that I have to get the headlight replaced, it should take only a couple of minutes and I head for the 24 hour service station at 27th and 11th. I pull in to the place and it looks like no one's there, even with the big sign that says "Open Seven Days A Week, 24 Hours A Day." I blow my horn and no one moves. I head out of the gas station onto 11th Avenue (this is where I turned on the meter) past the cop car that's sitting by the driveway when the cop hits his siren. This real young cop comes out, takes my license and registration and sits in his car talking with his partner. Fifteen minutes later he hands me three tickets: 1- Going through the gas station to avoid a red light. 2-Broken headlight ( that's an easy one to fix). 3- Red light. I look at the scrawl on the tickets and this name jumps up at me : Dreksau. Now, he's not my Dreksau, he's much younger than my Dreksau. He could be his son, nephew, cousin or just a guy with the same last name. The lady was ticked off but she was nice enough to give me her name and her address at work. It took more than a year though for her to reply to my plaintive requests for a letter describing the events of that night. In the meantime this same Dreksau bags me once again, this time he is in a big cop van with maybe six other cops in there with him and they're crawling along blocking the driveway on the 45th Street side of the Marriot Marquis. I swing around and there goes the siren. Now here comes Dreksau the younger, big grin on his face. "It's you again (you couldn't miss me with my beard) You cut me off." He takes my stuff and comes back around fifteen minutes later with a ticket for cutting him off. This one I paid. After a year of adjournments I get the lady's excuse letter and go for trial on the three tickets. (The headlight one had been taken care of by a letter from the garage.)
Now we get to court and he lies. He says the red light and the avoiding red light tickets were the only ones he wrote. He says I had no passenger. I demolished the sunuvabitch. The guy was shaking, really trembling and on the verge of tears and he asks the judge for a "do over!" Now I know this is not just another traffic stop for this guy, this is important to him. The judge gently reminded him that The State doesn't get the opportunity to appeal findings of "not guilty." A few weeks later I saw in the papers that a young cop named Dreksau had put a service revolver into his mouth and blown his brains out.
copyright Eugene Weixel all rights reserved